Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I’ve contemplated defining some Southern terms like “might could” and “come up a cloud,” before going on with adding any more characters to the Paxton census. But recently I read an etiquette question from a young woman who went to her first pitch-in lunch since she moved to the South.

She’d taken a cake as her contribution, and as everyone had been asked to take home whatever food remained on or in the dishes they’d brought, she picked up her plate with a bit of cake left, thanked the hostess graciously, and started for the door.

The hostess called out, in front of all the other guests, “Hey! You’re taking my PLATE!” Guest answered that was indeed her own plate---she’d brought the cake on it. Hostess replied, even more loudly, that it certainly WAS her plate, because it had a Christmas tree on it---going on in that vein, all but calling the guest a liar and a thief.

Embarrassed and chagrined that her first party in her new town had made her the center of such a spectacle in front of ladies she hoped would be her friends, the guest removed the Saran from the bit of cake and showed the hostess the plain white plate. Hostess made no apology beyond a grudging, “Well, it LOOKED like mine.”

The letter-writer asked if that were common behavior (and as my Mammaw would have said, it was VERY COMMON, indeed, but it certainly is not the norm where I come from). I answered her post, saying that it was NOT the usual way of doing things, and that the hostess certainly owed her more in the way of an apology than a four-year-old might be coerced to offer.

Then I explained an almost-entirely-Southern phenomenon---in other regions it might be called a fantod, or a “going off” or just plain RUDE. Down South it’s called a Hissy Fit.

You, My Dear, may have had your first (I hope) and last (more fervent hope) encounter with what is known as a Hissy Fit. And a very amateurish attempt, it was, pitched by someone who has not obtained her proper HF credentials, much like the hangers-on of Rock Stars and Movie Idols.

She THOUGHT she could, but failed miserably. She attained merely Rude, and SHE was the spectacle.

Southern Belles learn the power of the properly-thrown Hissy Fit in their cradles, and use them to good effect and AT THE PROPER TIME---in case of absolute, dyed-in-the-cotton rudeness from someone, or when they see another creature, human or animal, being abused. Gray areas less or more than these are cause for contemplation, reflection and consideration before throwing or refraining. A mistaken dish, no. An overheard bit of gossip, perhaps.

Catching Bobby Ray kissing Sissy Maud---Oh, Yeah.

A REAL Southern Belle KNOWS the difference, and is a model of calm and mannerly decorum, unless dire circumstances require. Some circumstances do require a Dressing Down, a Blessing Out, a taking-to-the-woodshed. Yours, however, did not do Any Such Of A THING.

Your hostess was NOT Raised Right, was probably a THAT CHILD, left to run roughshod over everyone in sight, and was exhibiting TRASHY WAYS.

She is a true blight on Belledom, and would be cut dead at any Garden Club, Debutante Ball, Fishfry, Huntin' Camp or Eastern Star South of the M&D. Her lack of apology is certainly no surprise. I apologize on behalf of Belles everywhere; we do not hold with such nonsense, No Sirree.

I truly trust you will reconsider any further truck with such a hussy. I'll bet she even put dark meat in the chicken salad.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Yesterday was a nice day---BabyGirl and I spent a lot of it outdoors---she and her tiny broom and dustpan, and I with the big yard broom, just getting the whispery brown drifts of leaves off the concrete of the patio and sidewalks. It was a futile effort, and does nothing to postpone the next treefall, as the wind was channeling March all through the branches, around corners of skittery leaves, and through our hair. We were out for only a few minutes, both of us in T’s and shorts, and I said, “Let’s go get your jacket.”

“Jacket!” she pronounced, heading up the steps---an unprecedented move, as any “Lets go in now,” has all Summer been met with a protesting small “Noooo,” or a giggling dash for the back garden.

We walked for blocks and blocks---at least I did, but at quite a cardio-happy rate of speed. She ran. “Yeah, RUNNIN’!” she’d chortle as we sped down the sunny sidewalk. We looked in on Oga and Peewee and Chocho, gave an across-the-street wave to the two loud Dobes who inhabit the Yellow House, and a soft "Ah-WOOO!" in the direction of the three Bassets on the corner. Sure enough, they were out, and came chugging their friendly way to the fence. We picked up sticks and stuffed our pockets with pale green acorns, long and slender---obviously not the plain old sturdy oak trees I’m accustomed to.

We sat for a while on a cool bench in the sun, admiring the frenzy of bright orange mums planted anew in our park; we picked up little clumps of leaves---oak this time, instead of the usual paintbox of maples---they just haven’t felt the call of the chill yet, and will be probably a month in reaching their peak of beautiful.

Just at lunchtime we went way around to the grocery store, picked up a tiny cake for the evening’s celebration of Caro’s birthday. A small trip into the Chinese restaurant for a chicken-stick and a sugar biscuit; she munched the biscuit on the ride home in her little push-car, ate her chicken and cup of milk, then went readily upstairs. A long nap in her windows-open room, with the breeze and windchimes making melodies through the monitor.

We set tables, made pitchers of tea, and when all the family arrived at 5:30, we called in an order for General’s Chicken, Happy Family, Lo Mein, Moo Goo, a simple pan of steamed chicken and broccoli, egg drop soup for the little one, and several of their wonderful crispy egg rolls. Chris picked up the fragrant bags as we got ice into glasses, pulled up chairs.

Six of us at table, presents, good food, silly talk, cake and ice cream with our family. Nice day.

This morning was also breezy cold, still damp from all the weekend rain. We ran and ran, visiting our doggie friends up and down the blocks again; and now we’re home, into the house still scented with breakfast bacon and toast. She’s in the big blue chair with Fifi and the Flowertots, and I’ve poured the last cup from the percolator.

And the treasures from our yesterday’s stroll, except for the pumpkin---it was one of a pair we bought at the grocery store last week. From the driver’s seat of the small green pickup
, she pointed to the pile of Autumn bounty in a basket: “Orange?” she asked. I confirmed the color, and she learned the word “Pumpkin.”

And the small acorns seem to have made their escape. They’ll probably turn up soon, fallen to the depths of the ToyTub, or rattling around in the dryer.
I read a saying once---a man said, "If I have only one month to live, let it be October." He'd have to admit---yesterday and today were about as close as it gets.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


The day seems brighter than lately, though the patio and back yard are awash in damp brown leaves. Our biggest tree is molting onto the lawn, sidewalks, driveway, concrete, and all lawn furniture, in none of those blown-glory splashes of color which grace this time of year.

These are clingy leaves, sticking to chair seats, welcome mats and door-screens, susssshed up into drifted piles in corners and against the stems of hostas, cactus, fern, sifting down into the big balls of lavender mums like drab confetti, and hitching a ride on your feet all through the house.

We're headed out in search of farm stands---the ones we've always looked in on, the new ones sprung up since last Fall, and some of the naked ones passed by all through Summer and Spring, with their promises of Apples and Pumpkins and Gourds and beautiful corn freckled for Autumn. Those faded signs, those deserted premises with vines grown over locks and gates, with weathered tables and slanted platforms ready for baskets of bounty, the lettering of the signs faded to whispers on the wood---I hope they've sprung to life again today.

We'll follow little hand-lettered squares stuck on posts along the road, avid for the PUMPKINS 1 Mile, then 1/2, then the Turn HERE, much as long-ago travelers craned through windshields for the next line of a Burma Shave verse of the welcome welcome of the familiar Holiday Inn star. We'll squint, step out onto gravel or grass or mud, and look at the largesse with the enthusiasm of Spring gardeners peering for green in the Earth.

A touch of smooth squash-skin, the heft of a delicata, the funny whorls and color combinations of a Turk's hat---those speak Fall and crisp sunshine and something cinnamony in the oven. Just one halved acorn squash, its center pooled with melted butter and maple syrup, with a little scatter of cinnamon and nutmeg around the rim---the scent and the knowledge of the preparations---that brings a comfortable presence to a house on a cold day.

Pumpkins---Cider---a warty gourd-no-two-alike---perhaps a small smooth white pumpkin for the graceful white compote; that silhouette and shading is a lovely thing to contemplate for its days of plump roundness, and later dropped to break chunnnck in the far-back garden, a delicacy for the birds and raccoons and the waddly old possum who lives beneath the boat.

Prospects are often far more beautiful than the gleaning, but today, we're ready to see what will come.

Friday, September 25, 2009


When Marguerite Roseberry married the oldest Ellis boy, after she finished at Mississippi Southern and he was going for his CPA at State, the ladies of the town gave several nice parties to honor the young couple.

One of the fetes was a Cocktail Supper, out at ShadyLawn on Quinn Bayou Road, at the big old family home of the Meltons---four couples went in together and threw the party. Sissy and Perk, of course, as the Melton’s nearest neighbors, and the Kings and the Heafners.

They hired a lot of the food from a nice woman who worked out of her home kitchen, and had done a lot of the local parties, and they all went in together on the Marinated Shrimp and the Tenderloin in Yeast Rolls and the Caviar/Avocado mold, but the hostesses all contributed a dish or two of their own. Something about the Kitchen-Pride of a Southern Woman just WILL NOT let her set down all “Bought Food” for a gathering she’s hostess of.

Now Sam's food, and Costco food---those are exceptions---those lovely croissants and Bagel Bites and the paper-thin salmon or already-cut little perfect cheese cubes (in three flavors) (with flags!) are quite acceptable, right out of the packages. Other stuff needs gussying up a little bit, like Miss Sandra would counsel---just pouring the small marinated Mozzarella balls into a pretty glass dish isn't quite right---you need to toss in some shiny grape tomatoes, to take away the "bought" look.
And a pound cake, snapped right out of the clear plastic store box, flipped upside down on a cakestand and anointed with some lemon and powdered-sugar glaze, run all down to pool on the plate for even more of a homemade effect---now THAT you could set down as Preacher Food, anytime.

And so Sissy made a big platter of Crab Rollups, with cream cheese and green onion tops and a big black pound can of Phillips crabmeat, all stirred together with a clop of Blue Plate and some powdered garlic. She spread it on big flour tortillas and rolled them up, snugging them into a 9x13 pyrex with waxed paper between the layers. They needed to sit overnight in the fridge under damp Vivas to get the flavors just right, and firm up the filling.

On the afternoon of the party, she cut all the uneven ends off the tortillas, then cut them in half, half again, and then once again, to make eight neat pinwheels. She laid them in pretty rows on a big clear fish-shaped platter she had bought right out of the cold case when the folks at Piggly Wiggly realized how above themselves they had got for such a small town, so they closed down the seafood department and sold off all the equipment.

She put a clump of frilly parsley down on the tail-end, and arranged about a dozen tiny red crawfish claws in the green cushion---when Perk went to get a plate of crawfish off the hot buffet at the Super Lucky Eight several weeks before, Sissy told him to pick out some with some good-sized claws. She had yanked off the biggest of the tee-ninecy claws, and stashed them in a napkin for taking them home. A good rinsing and into a baggie in the freezer they went, to await their moment of glory on the crabmeat platter. Sissy always said, “I like for people to know what’s in the rollups, cause some folks can’t EAT seafood.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Miss Dovie Caldwell is a tottery little thing, always in dresses a bit too big, shoulder-pads of her saved-from-the-Seventies polyesters hanging from the shoulders of her small frame like the plastic shells fastened onto kids in Peewee Football. She favors pastels and uncomfortable scratchy fabric, with too-bright-for-daytime rhinestone buttons, and matches her accessories to her garments with various low pumps from Payless and a close-enough-color purse grabbed from the rack as she stood in line to pay.

She doesn’t see well, but she can take her magnifying glass and look at the cover of a crochet book and duplicate each and every stitch, turning out doilies and dresser scarves and pineapple tablecloths by the yard. The great flurries of Coty from her powderpuff, slapped to her withered cheeks and falling into the furrows like dust in the cottonrows, outline the wrinkles in a much-too-hearty pink for her sallow complexion. The tiny hairs on her upper lip quiver with their burden of the silky grains, like a bee’s feet after a long day in the blooms.

She is a kind woman, and crochets the most exquisite baby outfits for every young one in her county-wide list of acquaintances---no baby shower is complete until the flat box from Miss Dovie is opened and admired. Little girls get a pink jacket, booties and bonnet; little boys, the obligatory blue, with a tiny head-hugging cap, its bill perhaps three rows wide. For showers before the birth, she always has a good supply of yellow or green items, all matched up and ready in tissued boxes she orders from ABC Distributing.

Many a Miss Dovie ensemble has been shadowboxed at Tamyra's Frame and Gift Shop, for hanging in the child's room, long after the child outgrew the tiny garments. Prospective Mamas not of Miss Dovie's acquaintance hint broadly to friends who are, hoping to be included in the long list of recipients of that coveted gift. Why, even the traveling photographer Olan Mills sends around twice a year knows a Miss Dovie outfit when he sees it. And the ladies in her Sunday School class went in together one year for Christmas and got her a box of fifty little cloth labels to sew in the clothes---a white silky tag with two tiny doves, one pink and one blue. They figured that would hold her for her lifetime.

Though she has never ventured out of town in the car by herself, she flew to Germany once, in her seventies, to visit her GrandDaughter’s family, stationed there with the Army. She had a wonderful time, going on tours and a boatride up and down the Rhine, and sitting primly in Biergartens with the young folks and their friends, swaying to the irresistible music. She was finally prevailed upon by two handsome young soldiers to let them buy her a beer, and she would never let on, but she sorta LIKED it. It was easier going after she drank most of it, cause that big mug was WAY heavy til she got the level down a bit

Miss Dovie is a sedate, quiet woman, clad in demure dresses and a ladylike demeanor, though she WAS once heard to utter the words "Rich Bitch," in reference to a pushy, loud woman they saw berating a confused young clerk in Goldsmith's---this so startled her daughter and the other two ladies in their shopping party, and indeed Miss Dovie herself, they all had to go sit for a few minutes in the mezzanine, to compose themselves and stifle their giggles.

Her daughter tutored the middle Ellis boy after school a couple of days a week, and Miss Dovie grew to like the young fellow. For Christmas that year, she crocheted him a sweater, a really nice one, out of thick cotton yarn. It had a red bottom band, collar and cuffs, and the rest was white, with blue reindeer capering across the chest. He loved that sweater, and out of gratitude or habit or sheer clinging to a gift he really liked, he wore it EVERY day to school. The other kids teased him about it, but he was the sort of kid who was comfortable in himself, and in that sweater, and just didn’t care what they said.

He even wore it after the dryer went out, and his Mother had to hang the thing on a big padded hanger up in the ceiling beams above the fireplace, sometimes having to iron the neckline dry before she went to work. He loved that sweater, and Miss Dovie loved how he loved it; she'd never felt such gratification from any piece of her work. Though he's grown now, she has a picture of his small self in the sweater, stuck into the plastic mirror-frame doohickey on her dresser, along with pictures of her grandchildren and of The Late Mr. Caldwell, gone these thirty years.

Miss Dovie lives with her married daughter, and they’re Methodist, but she wishes her church had the good loud singing of the Baptist church, and the wonderful Second-Saturday Church Suppers, instead of subdued music and quiet quarterly gatherings muted as the footsteps on the carpet of her own church. Miss Dovie always takes a Tupperware of red Jello, though her daughter carries a tuna casserole “for the family” in her nice blue padded toter; Miss D. still likes to contribute something, and she eats two “dressed aigs” whilst she’s there, for they never have devilled eggs at home.

Her hands are crooked and small, with knuckles too big for her fingers and little blue veins mapping her fragile skin. They are beautiful old hands, the stuff of etchings, with a lovely pale glow to the tops and satiny, shiny palms, and it’s a blessing she resists the urge to cover the veins with a floof of powder, as well.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Mary Calyx (CAL-ix) Diebold---her Mama thought "Mary Alice" was too plain, and she saw calyx in a book and thought it was some kind of a flower, not a PART of a flower. Mary Calyx wears blouses and skirts---great wide ones, with plenty of room to get on and off her bicycle without her slip a-showin'. Her gray Soft-Spots and thin white anklets can be seen pumping that Schwinn all over town, especially to the site of any local happenings. She will never learn to drive a car---her nerves won't allow it. A thick headband holds her wiry browny-gray hair back from her face, and a big ole stiff turkeytail of it sticks straight out over the tight elastic at the back of her head.

Mary Asenath Diebold---elder sister of MC---they're the only two children of the only Catholic family in town. MA was forever christened Mersenith from first grade on. Mersenith can drive, ride, shoot or field-dress anything that she can get her hands on. She hopped in the pickup beside her Daddy when she was still in diapers, standing on the seat with her little arms stretched across the back for balance. She's spent more than a few days lying in an icy field, waiting for a flock of mallards to come in for the night. She works at the Mayor's office, moved into a little furnished apartment in the side of Mrs. Crossland's house when she finished her Secretarial Course at the Junior College, and drives a second-hand Accord, which she paid for herself.

Nancy Fred Baxter---named after her Daddy. An only child, she was a jeans-wearing, tree-climbing, horse-riding tomboy---the lone small female in a neighborhood of all boys, as far as the eye could see. She learned to rip and roar with the best of them, standing up in the Saturday movie to cheer on the hero and boo the villains with shouts and flung Sweet Tarts. Her pockets were stuff-sprung from the weight of her Barlow, her spinnin’ top and Prince Albert bagful of marbles. In her teen years, she hid her hands beneath desk or book, embarrassed at the still-prominent calluses from her years of winning everybody’s aggies. And in her grown-up jewelry box, transferred from the childhood pink one which opened to let a tiny ballerina twirl to a halting, jerky rendition of “Fascination,” she still has her two steelies from those marble-shooting days.

Nancy Fred hates her name, but not as much as Oscar Jeniece Overton must--- after four boys and two other girls, and her the baby---they finally named one after Mr. Oscar. Between layin’ a burden that great on a little baby, and his triflin’ ways in general, the consensus of the town women was that Mr. Oscar needed shootin’. But they never let on to Miss Ethel, his wife---she has quite a big enough Cross to Bear.

Anna (pronounced AHH-NNA) Helen Upchurch crochets and collects Precious Moments and Lladro. She started with a pretty little corner cabinet from a yard sale, proudly called it her étagère, and proceeded to fill it with tiny sweet-faced, big-eyed little bits of ceramic. It was the eyes that called her, like beseeching little prisoners peeking out from behind those teacup tears. And every wall in her house has at least one print of a house or church or street, with flower boxes, glowing street lamps, and a golden glow through every window.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


The Tyrees lived sorta on the outskirts of Paxton, in one of those old gray-weathered houses you see way off the road, with shadowy gray outbuildings and a gaggle of dogs to match. The yard ran mostly true to expectations, with several unseemly bits of rusting machinery or cars, a scattered collection of tools, battered toys and one incongruous thing of beauty---a gleaming bottletree.

That one bit of Beautiful in that devastated yard drew the eye, out of place and beguiling---every shade of blue and green glinted from the stubs of a big mimosa, whose lopped-off limbs were testament to a seldom-seen Ice Storm which had shut down the community for nine days three years ago, taking out power, turning out school, halting traffic and toppling trees burdened too far past bearing. Trees which did survive were shorn of their roundness, leaving flat-planed surfaces where the limbs held up as long as they could under the growing weight, then domino-collapsed upon each other in an avalanche of shattering crystal and crackling wood.

The mimosa, in Summer all tiny fern-leaves and powderpuff blossoms, had succumbed to the ice-weight all over, leaving an almost-round bare sculpture of shortened limbs, and piles of long slender poles which emerged from the melt like a glacier giving up its mammoth bones.

The bottles had been collected over the years---the sun-catching cobalt bottles from Milk of Magnesia and fancy-water from Hardy Lake Country Club's dumpster sprang up like a blue halo all over the tree, accented by a dozen or so slender Blue Nun winebottles, culled from the town dump. And in amongst the stunning blues, the pale Co-Colas, with the punch of Mountain Dew or Seven-Up green. An amber collar of wider-mouth, stout-statured Garrett Snuff bottles ringed the tree on the stubs of the thicker lower limbs.

And in that tatty yard, with its blown landscape of rust and neglect and other trees and bushes punctuated by the inflating flutters of white plastic store-bags, with a half-dozen tossed Pampers wind-scooted up against buildings and bushes, that blue-jeweled tree stood worthy of Hesperides, gleaming in the sun.

Nobody in town knew just which of the Tyrees had such a hand, such a longing for just one thing pretty, but town notion had it that it was the second-oldest Tyree boy, Aden, who had been painting the fairy-tale chalk murals on the board at Paxton Elementary since he was five and had to stand on a chair to finish the castle tower. He was eleven when the first person driving past on that long gravel road noticed the gleams of blue in that dismal clutter. Now that his whipcord frame allowed him to do the work of a man with his Dad and brothers, and the tree had slowly become encrusted with sapphire glints from all sides, he spent any free time keeping to the woods and the fields with a book and a sandwich, passing his days in dreams-of-better and forays into Camelot and Middle Earth and Narnia, living through Heroes, longing for MORE.

He'd sprouted that beautiful beacon in his wilderness, just to look at.

And the Thorntons---five children in that small shotgun house not too much farther down the road, the gray-weathered board-and-batten house with the rickety porches fore and aft and a bathroom finally added in a section of the back porch. The ceiling of the bathroom was left as is---simple painted rafters with the roofing nails punched through like symmetrical stalactites, and it was always a surprise to wake in the night, go into the bathroom, and hear the rain drumming on the roof.

The front porch was long-ago-screened, but romping, wrestling children had punched great gaps into the mesh, and the flappy screendoor sagged a wedge-gap top and bottom. Meadie Thornton tried, she did---she planted hollyhocks up against the side walls of the house, with smaller flowers in front, and big smooth clunks of river rocks bordering the beds. She’d had her oldest boy cut a tire into neat pointy edges, and turn it inside out. Whitewashed, it made a quite creditable planter for the red petunias; one planter led to two, and soon the place was garnished in about half-a-dozen places with round pinking-sheared white planters of bright flowers. Two of them were giant-sized, due to her bartering a shoat for two old used tractor tires.

Hoot’s only misgivings, save for his grimace at all the fancifying of the place, was that all that whitewash would be better used on the chicken-house and the toolshed. Since neither edifice had ever known paint of any kind, nor had it occurred to Hoot to neaten them up any, Meadie had tartly replied that the last ten-gallon bucket of lime had been gathering dust out back for a coon’s age. It had been sitting there in the shed, still sealed up from back when Hoot's Daddy had bought three of them at the auction at Khinnl’s Feed Store when O-Man Khinnl died and his grown kids squabbled about their inheritance to beat the band, selling off house, land and store as fast as they could grab the money.

The other drums of lime had been used for sanitizing the outhouse. Since that shining spot had long been dozed over and filled in, in favor of the new bathroom at the end of the back porch, Meadie felt vindicated in using up all that old lime in any way she wanted, and whitewash it was. She broom-swabbed all the tree-trunks in the yard, as well, looping a string neatly at the height of her yardstick and painting a razor-margin deftly with an old paintbrush.

And if whitewash would have clung to the enameled outside of coffeecans and big #10 cans from Showboat Pork & Beans, she’d have tarted them right up, as well, for all the coleus and purple verbena which graced the weathered porches and rickety steps of the house. She wanted---with every breath of her 108-pound-body---she wanted things pretty. And neat, and clean and any other adjective which would describe a serene, pleasantly tidy household. That it was a losing battle, except in bright bits and pieces, never occurred to her; every day was a prospect, and she took it on by sheer will and a longing which eclipsed the labor.

Her sensibilities even led her to hang her clothes on the line in neat rows of succeeding sizes, and when she’d done all the whites, she’d hang all the underwear neatly, then scurry to flip and pin a just-washed wet sheet over the entire line. Nobody was looking at HER family’s underdrawers, no sir, not on OR off. And they’d all dry nicely in the sun by evening, anyway.

The tires and trees had been spruced up four times over the succeeding years, the last two with sacks of paid-for lime of a new kind, and the porch screens were new plastic mesh, stretched tight and mosquito-proof, with a new strong-springed screendoor front and back on the house.

And Meadie had begun Painting-by-Number in her spare time.
Both families struggled---with Life and Circumstance and plain old hard labor, but Meadie Thornton, too, longed for MORE, and brightened her corner where she could, with what she had---tractor tires, coffeecans and leftover-lime whitewash.

And a young boy, meant for better things, had stepped out into his own ravaged yard and flung out one visible-for-miles bright blue flare of hope with a treeful of gleaming bottles.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Miss Audie had gone on a trip to Pensacola once, with her brother ‘n'em, and they stayed in a MO-tel and went crabbin’ and spent quite some time touring the several souvenir shops close by.

And Miss Audie had seen her first flamingo. Well, not a REAL one, with the pinky-rose feathers and upside-down bill and storky-legs and all, but whole flocks of them, frozen in plastic and glass and ceramic, standing in ashtrays like in water, and beneath slapdash leaning palm trees and printed on shirts and skirts and postcards and handbags, clustered around seashells holding soap, dabbling their heads upside-down in bowls of permanent shiny stuff with tee-ninecy plastic fish and lobsters embedded in the bottom, crooking their slender necks around thermometers and pens, and in all manner of other postures on quick-buck souvenirs. And she was smitten.

She thought them the height and depth and breadth of Nature’s talent for outlay of Beautiful. She loved the pinks, and the rose, and all the Made-in-Japan shades in between on those impossibly-structured and colored birds. They just COULDN’T be part of THIS world. Nothing that rich and strange could exist outside of Heaven itself, and she pictured the gawky grace of those long legs trying to stroll those Golden Streets, their graceful necks like a bevy of worshipful giraffes, bowing to Glory.

And she brought home dozens---she ate crackers and ketchup every time they went out for supper, eating only on the nights they had just-caught crabs and light bread and chili-sauce and cans of Showboat or Pride of Illinois or Bumblebee Tunafish they’d brought from home and cooked up in the Motel kitchenette. She saved every penny for buying flamingoes. Had there been an Outlet Store selling the live ones, she’d have crated up a pair and brought them home to her backyard. She just fell in love with those things right off the bat, and it lasted.

She talked about them at church, and at Club, and at WMU and Prayer Meeting; she likened them to God’s Own Doves, right up there in the CHOSEN of the animal kingdom. She looked for pictures of them, and begged used copies of Southern Living and Redbook from her neighbors, just in case someone had vacationed there and chronicled it on the bright pages.

Miss Audie almost came to a falling-out with Mrs. Davenport, when on the second trip to the bathroom during Club one Second Thursday, Mrs. D. happened to see her flicking through Mr. D.’s prized collection of National Geographics, hoping to rip out a picture and get back before time for Reading of the Minutes.

And her glorification of the birds, so beautiful in their garish grace, and the corruption of their reputation into dimestore gee-gaws—all that caused the title to start---Flamingoes were just TOO TOO; they were gaudy and proud and snobbish and just getting Too Big For Their Britches. And anyone, anytime, was open to ridicule as a Flamingo, by getting above themselves in dress, or expenditures or choice of vacation spots, automobiles, or too-elaborate Weddings for their Daughters.

Uppity ways segued from Puttin’ on the Dog to Flamingoin’---and all due to Miss Audie’s love affair with those wonderful pink birds. And it was Pure Grace that she never DID catch on.

Friday, September 18, 2009


If I’d gone to Hogwarts, I’d be a Hufflepuff. Just the SOUND of it is cushy and sorta soft and low-key, with a light, gentle touch on the wand and a bland taste in Spells. None of that dark whooshing and zooming for me---no lightning or explosions or crackling whizbangs to disturb the air. And no intrigues or plans or sabotage or deepening plots, no bubbling cauldrons or deadly spells. All the potions would pour out delicious, tasting of whatever the person imagines them to; they'd be bracing and beneficial, the spells soothing and restful and kind, and views of the future would evoke naught but happy anticipation.

I’d do the mooshy stuff, featuring love potions and happy charms; I think my chosen talent would be putting grumpy or unhappy folks into the palest of euphoric trances, never again to do a mean thing or speak an unkind word, but to think truly that they'd always been that way.

My owl would be a tiny, twittery one, for small happy messages on silky paper, and my chosen pet a plum-hued Lady Spider with soft silver fur and emerald eyes.

I’d have graduated with a Major in easy, whispery spells like Silence and Moonbeams and Babysmiles, charms like Happy Birthday and Good Morning and You’re Beautiful, with a Minor in Befriending Fairies and all sorts of other cushiony, feather-light marvels.

Oh, I LOVE the flying---but mine would be the sissy sort, very short trips on a big comfy wide broom without bristles. Mine would have a pillow effect, and the really low heights of my travel would afford soft landings should I daydream or have one of my bumbly Aunt Clara moments. And my flights would always take me over flowerbeds, Fairy Dells and waterfalls.

Yep---a Soft Magician; that would be me. I’d probably grow old as one of the squeaky-voiced old Lady Wizards who haunt Rare Book Stores and Candyshops, Estate Sales and Charity Auctions, Egg Hunts and Family Reunions, just out of view, just beyond sound, but there and ready to preserve the Peace and Tranquility of the place, with no kerfuffle to the day and no one the wiser.

And YOUR House? What would YOU whisper to the Sorting Hat?

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Walter Perkins Covington is a planter. He's a good-sized man: Sissy struggles to keep him in fresh khakis, despite his propensity to jump right out into the drainage ditch or under an oil-leaking tractor. When he's on one of their "trips" or playing golf at the Club, or at church---then, it's always the same---pastel Polos and khaki pants and lace-up leather shoes---golf or dress---all chosen and purchased by Sissy. He wears a gold watch but no wedding ring, and despite his being the owner of so many thousands of acres, he has the white-forehead/tan-cheeks of a real farmer. He gets out of the truck and stands, one hand propped on his hip, a cigarette in the other, while he gives orders or passes the time of day, gesturing with the smoking hand, and on him, it does not look effeminate. He wears a HAT, not a cap; Planters wear hats, and in deference to his Daddy's memory, Perk wears a hat.
Perk grew up on the big family farm, and learned to do and drive and repair might near everything there was to the place; he has hard-calloused hands and a know-how which keeps him doing the work, even when he can well afford to hire other folks to do it. He's remodeled two houses, their first small one from their early marriage, and the big old family one, left to him by his parents, and re-done several years ago to Sissy's taste, with French doors onto the patio and tons of granite in the kitchen and bathrooms. Perk can hammer, saw, plumb and run electrical wire good as anybody, and enjoys the sweat of a good day's labor.

He hunts everything that moves, and has four huntin' dogs, all well-trained and famous around several counties. Perk saw in a movie one time where a rich man said an important man's pockets should be empty. He needs no ID, cause everybody knows him; no money, cause his credit is good everywhere, and no keys, because every door should be open to him, and at home, the servants open the door before his truck rolls to a stop. Every now and then, he'll tear out a check, stick it and his driver's license in his shirt pocket, and run to Memphis or Jackson for parts, but when they travel, Sissy carries the passports and credit cards, having to hiss at him in airports to TAKE THIS ID and I MEAN IT!

Sissy likes to try recipes she finds in Gourmet and Taste of Home and on the Internet, involving new things like cilantro and arugula and curry; Perk is not strictly a meat-and-potatoes man---he likes a good dish of snap beans or fried okra or collards as well as anything, but he refuses to eat any of the foofoo stuff, especially if it's something green he hasn't seen actually GROWING before.

Sissy is just Sissy, named Cordelia Martha Jennings II for her Daddy's sister, but one Cordy in the family was enough. And her Mama didn’t even LIKE the name “Martha”---too common---but was still in the throes of the ether and the pain drugs when Miss Callie Bates came around with her clipboard to fill out the Birth Certificate. Mama had agreed to Cordelia, but Aunt Cordy and Sissy’s Daddy were the only ones awake in the rustles of the darkened, quiet room when Miss Callie bustled in and the name was put down, and there it was.

And once Miss Callie wrote it down and snapped the gold top back on her Parker fountain pen and clipped it back in her big side pocket---well, that was ALL SHE WROTE, in every sense. Pardons at Parchman were easier to come by than a change in any medical record in THAT hospital, recorded with the State or not.

Even the two tiny tooth-dents in the gold lid from her great-nephew’s slobbery chewing---testament to a softness in both metal and Miss Callie’s usual iron will and demeanor---meant nothing after that final snap-and-clip. The thing was DONE.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Would you read about these people? Do you know these people? I do. But Y'all know I'm makin' 'em up, as I go along.

 SISSY COVINGTON: Still got her figure, still lingering a bit in the Eighties---her fashion sense runs to shiny blouses with big clocks and maybe the Eiffel Tower in several sizes and slants, worn with her customary necklace of big gold beads---they were the Eighties woman's upscale edition of her childhood Add-a-Pearl. Has had her standing appointment at the Chat ‘n’ Curl for the last nine years, since Mrs. Prysock went into The Golden Years Nursing Home, where the same beauty operator goes over on Thursday afternoons to do hair for quite a few of the residents.

Sissy is one of the holdouts who still does her hair daily with a pick; it stands high on top, like a big long crewcut, with the tips all turned back, like wind through a wheatfield. Her own appointment is Wednesdays at eight a.m.; her husband Perk has learned that first-day hairdos create their own standoffish forcefield, and after all these years of wistful Wednesdays, the scent of fresh AquaNet acts on Perk like a cold shower.

Sissy is a proud proponent of Stovetop, Jello Instant Pudding, and Minit Raas, and she has enough money to shop and travel well, picking destinations from magazine covers she peruses in line at Kroger. Wednesdays are also grocery-days, so Sissy pulls that big green Lincoln up in the parking lot about nine-thirty, wearing oversize sunglasses year-round, handling the wheel gingerly on Manicure Day, and bearing a xeroxed shopping list. The page bears the name of each and every item she buys on any kind of regular basis, and all she has to do is step to the fridge door and put a checkmark by items that are running low. She had her sister's assistant at the flower shop type it up and run her off several hundred copies years ago, in her spare time between funerals, weddings, and the Valentine's Day frenzy.

She and Perk go out for a lot of their meals, appearing for lunch at Viola's Meat 'n' Three, or at at the Pig 'n' Pit, or sauntering into the CLUB for weekend brunch. They are regulars at the Catfish Shack and Shoney's, and talk to friends all across the room as they eat and then sit and enjoy a few minutes' leisurely pursuit with their toothpicks, never missing a conversational beat.

The Covingtons have made the obligatory pilgrimages to Paris, Jamaica, England, It-ly and Hawaryuh, wearing home matching T-shirts and bringing a supply of small ones for the grandchildren. Perk travels wherever Sissy buys tickets for, but he’d rather be at Deer Camp.

Sissy's been known to chew gum in church. And has been heard to snap it unconcernedly whilst discussing next week's WMU in the parking lot. She always looks good and smells good, with the scents of Estee Lauder and Doublemint and the ever-increasing layers of Aqua-Net marking her unmistakable aura. She tried Norell one time, liking the way it smelled on Margie Hampton when she came into the Chat 'n' Curl. She picked up a nice atomizer bottle on a Saturday trip up to Goldsmith's, but it gave her such a headache next morning in church---she could hardly open her mouth to sing the Doxology it hurt so bad---she gave it to Queenella when she came to do the windows, with a stern caution not to ever wear it around HER. Sissy likes things the way they are and always have been.

Sissy, on decorating the house:

Well, I had to go sneak and write Hollis Mae a check for my new Trump Loyal, and put down it was for my share of a baby shower in case Perk looked in the checkbook---he got so mad when he looked at the wall I thought he was gonna explode. It was sposta be a window lookin’ out on a garden, but he just lost it when he saw she’d painted in what looked like a big ole broke place, right by the windaframe---said she made him look like he didn’t know his job when he put up that sheetrock. And why in the Pee-Diddle would anybody want to take a nice piece of work and make it look like it was fallin’ apart, anyway?

But that’s just him. Me---I think it looks real nice, like there’s a place to look at that’s not even there, but it looks like it is. And the fountain out past that winda looks just like one we saw in IT-ly, cause I looked it up on the Internet and Hollis Mae copied it, line for line. Even the squirt of water looks Eye-talian. She’s a real good painter. Her roosters have won prizes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


images captured by chris
I feel like the lady hiding the glasses from the company because she doesn't use the right dishwasher detergent. The plants get a good watering in their pots every day, twice if it's dry and hot, and always a generous shower over leaves and fruit. And those spots on the tomatoes are the reason we got this new water-softener system---we're in Lime Country. So, if you click to embiggen the picture, you get super-sized water-spots. But BOY are the tomatoes beautiful!

(Ha! To add more to the metaphor---I just noticed they're in a Cascade box. That's too much sugar for a dime).
There's a Special Dispensation (and a place guaranteed in Heaven) for folks who offer Home Grown Tomatoes to strangers.

People smile and chat and they remember you pleasantly. Doors open and folks gather and there's a meeting of the minds, and of neighbors, when Home Grown Tomatoes are offered. I think you could walk up wearing a hockey mask, ring a doorbell, and be welcomed with open arms, were there some nice ripe Big Boys or Cherokees involved.

That's true where I'm from. Might be different other places, but I hope not. Wish I could just FedEx evva one a y'all a big old ripe red Early Girl, and you could have those luscious slices, all leaking their juices into the bowl. We've had tomato salad, cucumber-and-tomato salad, and both of the above varied with the addition of some crushed Premium crackers; we've made the bacon-and-tomato salad, Caprese with shiny little leaves of basil and some fresh Mozz; tomato and watermelon salad, salsa, and spaghetti sauce; Pasta Rustica with just fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil and fresh-grated Parm, room temp in a bowl, then tossed with steaming pasta straight from the boiling pot. BLT's for every meal, sometimes every day, a bowlful of plain chunks with seasalt, alongside a matching bowl of Chris' Creamed Corn; Redneck Gazpacho, BLT salad dressing, roasted slices, small circles whittled onto the top of ready-for-the-oven quiche and meatloaf, tiny chips in black bean salsa and in guacamole.

And we share, across the fence, to clients, to neighbors, to the UPS guy. Nobody goes away empty-handed; I've even run out of sacks to send them home in.

Home Grown---them and me, and glad of it.


A man in black, leading his dance troupe down the aisle in a synchronized fingersnap-hip-shake-sharp-step, his determination and heart bigger than even his talent---a man who took on challenges and faced the fiercest with the same courageous, gallant heart---the music is stilled today, the feet silent.

Whatever the gathering, whatever the services or the wake or the sendoff, I cannot help thinking that the last notes will linger in the air,



You will all live on.

Monday, September 14, 2009


My heart is heavy just now---I've just had a message from my friend Marty Kittrell, of the stunning photographs from Back Home in Mississippi. A young man very dear to his family died in an accident on Friday, and our prayers and thoughts are with both families today.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Some days are a marvel, with glorious weather or not, marked by doings and seeings and discoveries and messages from people you love. Others creep on apace, marking time til the brief candle sputters out.

And then there are days when someone gives you something like this:

photo by marty kittrell

It’s a gift---a breathtaking once-in-a-Lifetime gift of something which has never been before, and in an augenblick, is never to be again. A split-second of sun and the freshening of the breeze, the lifting and turning currents of the water beneath, the flick of a dragonfly’s wings---those provoke almighty changes to the scape which tilt the light, evaporate the beads, cause the leaf to spill its incredible treasure back into the mingling pool.

But this was the NOW, the eternal Now, captured in the blink of a shutterspeed faster than birdpulse, the silver drops frozen forever in their sunlit dance upon the velvet. I marveled, I sighed a rapturous deep sigh of perfect harmony with the gleams; the light and the shadow and that magical magnetism which held each perfect bead contained within itself, immaculate in that one caught breath.

It’s a photographer’s quest, this uncapturable moment so frozen in its perfection, and this one is a self-spoken culmination of years of the seeking, the focus, the angle, the sheer happenstance of the moment---a click of the latch to lock in that instant’s glory. Artistry and skill and luck colluded, and the union is captured.

I was just captivated by the beauty of it, first of all, and then my mind went into overdrive over each minute capsule’s being a totally separate world, populated by tiny beings, a la Horton's WHO, or the little amulet on Orion's collar in Men In Black. (Don't look at the flashy thing).

I hadn’t given much thought to surface tension or convex meniscus or like molecules since college Physics. DAYUM. That stray thought, and the magic trickled away in the grim daylight of pure reason, though those principles are magical to me, as well. Silvery and transparent and perfectly round---nature's rounds far surpass any puny human-made ones. And the WHY of it, the HOW of that unbelievable legerdemain, that suspending of the Laws---those are questions past my solving, and I’m glad of that.

Don’t you just marvel at a quivery more-than-spoonful of coffee or water or tea? I even had a friend ask, of a recipe I was giving over the phone---when I mentioned a teaspoon of vanilla, she asked: Is that level or heaping? Depends on how still you hold it, I guess.

The big green ears on my hostas have that quality of grabbing the water, that velvety perfection which cushions each drop and holds it perfectly in place with its own odd properties of friction and texture. These drops are not flat anywhere, not even in the expected bottom plane---you can even see the diminution of the toe-hold, as it tapers in narrower than the whole.

Gravity will go on, as will the turning of the seasons and the path of the orbiting Earth, but something like this has the power to take us from mundane matters of Science, lilting off into Magic.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


As I rounded the corner of the “potting shed”---myspeak for the big dark cavern, originally THE garage, with space for one car, a peagravel floor, and rickety roll-up door we manhandled down and had hauled away, substituting a succession of “tarps” hooked by their grommets onto stout nails to keep the elements away from the lawn equipment, tools, snow-blower and stored lawn furniture---I came upon this:

Almost walked face-first into it, in fact, as the shine of it was visible more from the other side. The dangly leaf caught my eye as I neared it, a ghostly little wisp of pale flutter in the breeze, and I stopped in my tracks, just before I stepped up onto the small wooden platform which hosts the five spare grills and three beautiful yellow iron garden chairs, each bottomless and cradling an immense pot of herbs. I stood still, taking in the intricacies of the web, the sunshine on the filaments, the absolute marvel of it. Purely from an engineering standpoint alone, it’s a miracle, just hanging in the air.

It’s a succession of little ladders, wide ones and narrow ones, close-spaced rungs in places, and wide-flung gaps in others. And it hangs from the eaves of the shed, secured there in possibly a half-dozen spots, with two guy-wire contrivances splayed eye-god-Ethel distances in spider-steps at least eight feet apart.

See, there, to the far left---that thinthin line going off and down reaches the floor seven feet away; how DID she do it? Did she get that first wisp of silk attached, then float over, on the first rappel? Did she drop straight down, then walk to her chosen destination, spinning out that silver stream unbroken all the way?

I can see her fervent attention to the attaching of the anchor, then the quick climb back up the line, to knit and stitch and crochet that intricate, deadly doily into the air. How she flew and spun and drifted, the instinct of eons guiding the plan, with one intent and one purpose. No clanking loom nor clacking mill could have made this one-of-a-kind perfection. No human hand could achieve this pure line of thinner-than-a-hair thread.

The sheer logistics of the thing is amazing, with all that dedication to detail and grasp of the pattern, down to the strengths of her materials and her own weight upon the net. It boggles, it does, that flyspeck brain and that single-minded determination working in tandem to create something so lethal and so lovely.

I’ve always had an affinity for spiders; I drop an upside-down glass over them, gently slide a piece of paper beneath, and take them outdoors. In a pinch, I’ve been known to grab one with my fingers to rescue it from drowning in the sink. The big shrub out back is home to Mistress Octavia, Ogress of the Weatherbush; she greets me with bright eyes from her silken funnel, and we give each other the deserved respect. And my admiration grows, it does. It grows.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I'm SO enjoying all the Autumn vignettes and tablescapes and cloches and arrangements and views, with their warm oranges and golds and pumpkin hues, but until I absolutely HAVE to, I don't want to part with this:

Or this---a serene, quiet, contemplative place to stop for a cup of tea or an hour with a favorite book or conversation with a friend:

Time will come soon enough when all the slipcovers come off, the burgundies and the deep greens and the silvers come out, the rooms are re-arranged for all the potted plants to come in from outside, and a place must be made for the TREES and all the accompanying garnishments and froufrou, but right now, I can't even try to contemplate OCTOBER, though it's probably my favorite month.
Until the days pass, and the clocks jump and the air calls for mugs of cocoa or cozied teapots to replace these big pitchers of lemon tea or sweet tea or CrystalLight Grapefruit, and as long as the leaves refuse to swap their green for the bright hues of Autumn, I think I'll hang onto doors-open, evening breeze, tea-in-the-arbor Summer just a little longer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


It's been a really busy few days, punctuated by happy moments and sad news and traveling. I did absolutely nothing on Labor Day---literally nothing. Caro cooked us a lovely lunch of several nice salads and a scrumptious stir-fry of vegetables and crispy tofu. We watched a Miss Marple and ate our dinner on trays.

Our two-year-old BabyGirl should have been here, but because of the holiday, she went on a picnic with her Dada, while her Mama got some shopping in. DS and BabyGirl came by for a little while yesterday morning, on the way to the park; Dada does most of the cooking for the family, but this was the first time that just Dad and Daughter had a picnic all on their own. I hear that they enjoyed the swings and slides, and walked along the lake picking up sticks and watching the ducks.

But as they left my house on their way to their travels, I asked if I could peek into the tiny picnic cooler in the back of the truck. Inside were two bottles of water, two yogurts, two tiny lunchbox packs of peaches, a baggie with grapes, and one baloney sandwich.

My heart just overflows with the meaning of that, and the importance. I can't explain it; it just IS. And if I had one of those heart-smilie things, I'd slap it right on here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


photo by marty kittrell

Beneath the wild melodies of the wind chimes at night, I can hear the low moan of the trains passin’ through a few blocks from our house, especially in this lovely weather, with the windows open, and when the baby monitor’s on upstairs, the sound wends its way in through those shady windows, down the long hall, and flows down these narrow stairs like oil down a drain. To my ears that so familiar woooooooaaan is an echo of past train-sounds of decades, from those hot Delta days whose clock was the train-times; they stopped for water, for coal, to offload and take on passengers, and the mail was unloaded as swiftly as tossing out the bags.

The strong-as-iron mailbags with their leather-belt straps and their old-penny locks had the grinds of cinder-landings and underfoot stompings and dusty-concrete-draggings branded into their indestructible fabric. Not even years of being hung in all weather from the T-frame, feet from the tracks, to be snagged by the hook of the fast-passing express, could pierce the armor of those magical mailbags.

We loved that conjuring trick, and gathered to watch, every time we could---the depot worker would squint his way out into the sunshine, holding or dragging the gray-brown canvas lump, manhandle its weight up the several feet onto its iron gallows, and step back toward the door of that “railroad-colored” building---a sort of blacky-grayish-grunge color which marked every small-town depot I’d ever seen.

The fast-approaching train would shudder past, the clicks of the pin-width gaps between the rails causing those flying silver wheels to give off their trademark ca-CHUNK ca-CHUNK as the open door neared the swinging mailbag. In a move fast as a blink, the hook swung, the bag disappeared into that big maw, and the train was gone, in a diminishing clamor and whoossshhhh that left us breathless ourselves, and again amazed by the magic.

I’ve told of the darkened evenings of watching the colorful displays of the people in the train windows, just their shoulders-and-heads view, reduced to small soundless color TV portrayals in those rectangular windows, kindling a travel-longing in my soul. I'd have been content just to sit there, sidelined on that switch-track forever, living that soundless life of gracious warmth and genial company over the china cups filled by a smiling, white-coated waiter.

But my daytime relationship with the train-tracks was a more personal one, born of years of time-between-trains---we knew the schedules and the whistles and the times of every arrival and departure. During my early childhood, before the engines switched from coal to other fuel, the close-to-the-tracks houses had a whisper of fallout from that coal-smoke. I’d be sent out on washing-day with a damp rag, to reach up high, grasp the heavy wire clothesline in that dampened cloth, and walk one-end-to-the-other, tightly clutching the line as the residue from several-days’ train-passings was gathered into a grimy blackness in the center. And when we took in the fresh-dried clothes, my Mother would “look the corners” for any telltale misses which had been folded beneath the clothespins into her fresh-washed laundry. We ran out in a frenzy many a washday, when the far-down-the-turn whistle reminded us that the train was due. We’d gather armfuls of the whites helter-skelter, holding them in great loose swags as we snatched the pins loose and ran for the back door with hems dragging and socks spilling in our wake.

My lifelong love of the tracks was born of walking the rails for miles---we could walk clear to the next town on either side, and the half-mile to school was accomplished without one step upon the ground. Oxfords and loafers were our school shoes, and it’s not easy walking a slick steel rail, polished by the tons of grinding wheels several times a day, but we did it. We’d hold hands across the gaps, and since we were a three-switch town, whoever got the outside position had quite a gap to span, and we’d giggle and waver and grab each others’ hands tight for balance.

In the sunshine of early morning, you could look WAY down the tracks at a parade of colorful small figures, each strolling along the straight-and-narrow, gathering in others in their turn, making our way to the school grounds. Other times, we’d stop and lay down a penny (it was BAD LUCK to put down any other coin---it might wreck the train, though I cannot figure why a dime would be any more dangerous than its thicker cousin, but perhaps it’s because we never HAD a dime---not to waste on track-play, anyway). Then we’d jump down and run down the incline, where we crouched watching for the train---we’d duck our heads as the gusts and cinder-ash flew, then wait a respectful few seconds as the rumble beneath our bodies receded with the disappearing train. We'd jump up and go get our penny, too hot to touch for a moment, and thin as those little Lord's Prayer or Picture-of-Lincoln souvenir things from tourist-shop gumball machines.

I made my first track-walk to school on the day I started first grade, my small hand held tight in the grasp of our next-door-neighbor, a senior that year, and since heretofore I had walked only with people my own size, I stumbled once, falling on one knee, grinding it into the cinders. I was too ashamed to cry or evince any hint of pain; I stood, walked to school, and spent the morning hiding the wound beneath my skirt. I washed it and put on a BandAid when I got home, but the damage was done---my accidental tattoo, a blue scar which has punctuated my kneecap all these years, faded now to a whisper of the past, as muted as the night-cry of a faraway train.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Chris made the butterfly picture above, on a weekend that we ran down to Tennessee to have a quick "second party" for GrandDaughter #2's birthday, as well as to pick up GrandDaughter #1 to come for a visit---we met them halfway, and spent the night in our usual hotel. From my journal entry for the trip:

We're back YET AGAIN from the vast reaches of I-65, having run down to TN on Sat., spent the night, partaken of a LONG buffet of Southern cookin'---when you walk into the restaurant and see a long pan of paminna cheese on the salad bar, with the mile-high meringue of a still-warm nanner puddin' leading the parade---well, that's just lagniappe on the sundae of picking up your grandchild. And when the hotel clerk is a smiling young woman in a silver-gray uniform who looks as if she turned from the mirror at the Merle Norman counter just that minute, chirping out a cheery, "How're Y'ALL? Y'all doin' all right?"---you know you're HOME.

At dinner, we were in company of an entire convention of Vets who were actually AT Iwo Jima---honorable companions, indeed. And how we slept, drugged with the warm green hug that Tennessee throws around you from one state line to the other---awoke to 40-weight Southern coffee, the scent of deep-salt bacon wafting through the transom clear into our room, with birds calling us out to a sunny, sunny day.

The kids were coming from home, and so were not expected until two, so we took in a little bit of the flora and fauna around the area---hiking upsy and downsy trails with long tendrils of grass and other greenery swishing our ankles clear up to our knees (I can still check for ticks a mile away---just turn around this way, please). We explored the ruins of an old house, stood where they might have sat to eat breakfast, where she might have looked across her sudsy dishpan, dreaming her dreams through the small window. We snapped pictures of tall, ethereal orchidy-blue things small as a fingernail, but clearly showing an ORCHID in the magnifier; we collected a huge dustbunny of seeds from the expired head of a thistle big as a sunflower. I love thistles in any form, and I just kept finding another and another, and calling him on down the path for more pictures.
And so we met our butterfly.

Our softwater showers, lingered in for the cascade and the cleanfeel, were forgotten as we trudged the small inclines and felt our skins glow in the unaccustomed South-air Heat.

Our travelers arrived, whizzing down that ribbon of highway that we had watched avidly from our chosen shady picnic-spot. The small two poured squealing from the van, tumbling across the lawn toward us, with the little one struggling to hold on to her purse, her snuggle-toy, and her balance. They may have been beaconed by the table, which was alight with bright bags---two for the birthday girl and two going to a baby shower for their Mom. The biggest bag, a blazon of oranges and eye-searing yellows and greens, with birthday wishes in many languages---omtowmbow a big ole bag that could cover a Volvo---rolled out a Tonka-yellow dumptruck with a bed that would hold a peck of picked-up sticks and rocks.

In the pictures of their arrival, our littlest is running so swiftly to get to us, only air can be seen beneath her small sandals. That kind of enthusiasm from a child is a great blessing, akin to and better than a knighthood or a title.

We played on the playground, finding a neat window-niche which we imagined into a little store, and sold each other our caps, our sunglasses, the cups and eating utensils right off the table. I fished out my Library card, and whoever was storekeeper whisked it through the air on the ledge, and we signed the air receipts for our purchases with the flourish of a twig. Lovely shopping trip.

And their Ganner, not to be outdone of his Deep-South afternoon, had chilled a huge watermelon in the corner of our chilly room, THEN, when we had to check out three hours before their arrival, had scooped gallons of ice from the machine into a BIG black garbage bag, put in the watermelon, wrapped the whole thing in his big waterproof poncho, THEN in a big piece of indestructible black foam he carries in the trunk. He'd klept six knives and forks from Chic-fil-A as we traveled down, so when all the present ooh and aah, all the truck-rolling and filling and dumping abated a bit, he got out that icy melon, whipped out his trusty, ever-present pocketknife, and we had a wonderful, chilly feast under the Tennessee shade. And you'd be amazed how delicious a feast goldfish, pretzels and cold watermelon make.

A two-hour visit, then back up that long highway with our girl, singing Scout camp songs in the backseat (she went to her first campaway this year) and stopping for a judicious shopping trip at several Truckmalls, which feature the latest in dolphin-jewelry and animals-in-or-as-purses, as well as the neatest dispensers that will squirt out vanilla or cherry in unlimited supply to flavor your Dr. Pepper. She spent Sunday night here in her old room, reading her new Anne late as I always did and do---her lamp still gleamed down the hallway as this old Granny called it a night.

She woke as Caro came home about six, bearing a box of her lovely pastries; I heard the dear familiar longago thumpthump of those feet down the hallway, and knew she was headed for waking up Ganner. We both descended on his slumbers, diving in beside him for a little snuggle, story-telling and song time, just like I remember.

A LONG tour of the garden and lawn, coffeecups in hand, with gatherings of one green tomato, one small fat cucumber, two crisp little pendants of greenbeans, along with a tiny wind-dropped apple and a clip from each pot of herbs. We smelled them all, rubbed them between our fingers, inhaled the morning fragrances---I can remember seeing her lips making "thyme" and "marjoram" and "oregano" as we named them off and inhaled. She liked dill best, and could eat a pickle RIGHT NOW. So we went and got one.

That was two years ago, and we used the picture as the cover of a little family book I gave out for Christmas that year. The memories are still as vivid as the greens and purples, and bright as the butterfly.


We had a GrandDaddy and GrandMother Green/Greene on both sides of the family. My first Mother-in-Law was a Greene, and was a gentle, lovely woman, a marvelous cook and a wonderful Mother-in-Law. Her parents lived on the homeplace in a beautiful little mobile home, pale turquoise on its Fifties-shaped outside, and inside like a jewel-box. It had the most exquisite paneling---not the “today” stuff, but the beautiful blonde wood of the Fifties, shining and glossy. It was a tiny place, with a wee kitchen with a pink turn-the-corner-sink the size of a teacup, and a Murphy bed behind the gleaming boards of the living room wall.

Papa Greene was a good old fellow, kind to all the grandchildren, an avid garden-maker, watermelon-grower, and orchard-planter. He had stocked the place with peach, pear, apple and cherry trees, and quite a sizeable checkerboard-planted pecan grove. His watermelon patch was enormous, and he’d load up a truck and run into any of the several nearby towns, handing out produce on street corners, laughing and passing the time of day with old friends, as he puffed on a Swisher Sweet.

Grandmother Greene was a tiny, fragile woman, with enormous blue eyes behind thick glasses. She was never really “well,” but she sewed and cooked well into her nineties, and was always impeccably dressed and immaculately groomed, even for doing her housework. She'd wear a freshly-ironed shirtwaist dress, with her stockings rolled just below her knees. She spent a good little time keeping them neat, for her very slender legs required very small sizes. She'd bend and pull and snap, saying, "I like my stockin's tight as hide."
Chris’ own GrandDaddy Green was also a lovely, sweet man. Father of a loud, close, rollicking family, he told me tales of going to “Singing School” when he was young, going off for a week or two to a church gathering, where they would live in the campground, practicing harmonies in the hymns and “good” songs of the day, as well as learning “shape” note music.

I’d go over during the week sometimes and visit with them in the morning. I’d cook a good noon dinner for them, and about the second visit, Mama Green took a look around the busy kitchen, inhaled the aromas of the big pot of Pintos and ham and the crusty cornbread, and asked if she could invite the Preacher. So she did, and the table I had set for four was stretched to accommodate eleven, as the preacher brought his whole family. And so did everyone she invited, every time.

So we sort of got into a habit: I’d drive over about eight a.m. on a weekday, and they’d have some groceries ready. I’d cook and their friends or neighbors or church folks would appear about noon. I think I spent several months helping out with all their social obligations, and they had a lovely little "party" for me over lunch the last week before we moved away.

Mama Green was a fervent Christian, living her life for the Lord, studying her Bible constantly and listening to every radio sermon between there and the Atlantic, and several in the other direction, all the way to Del Rio, Texas. She and Daddy Green founded a good-sized Baptist Church, which has grown from several years of gatherings in their small living room to a large facility with lots of members, a huge brick building with an annex, providing day care, a food pantry, and other services.

In their early years of marriage, Daddy Green worked as a cook in the logging camps, and could turn out a hundred biscuits in the time that we could do a dozen. My own GrandDad was a logger at that time, also, and worked just outside of the little town where he and Mammaw lived. They had a little train track which ran up to the logging areas, and dead-ended at the camp.

At noon dinnertime every day, Mammaw and all the other wives would meet the train, and put their husbands’ dinners aboard for taking out to the work site. Everybody knew everybody’s tray and dishes and the dishtowels used for covers. I’ve always wondered if the ladies tried to “outdo” each other in preparing their husbands’ dinner trays, like Good Church Ladies still do, when it comes to Church Supper dishes.   A Century before Pinterest and Foodies and bright photos of everybody's dinner, these good Southern cooks were totin' fruit jars of Banana Puddin' and Cobbler to the depot on a daily basis.   My Mammaw could split and butter three left-from-breakfast biscuits and circle them  half-by-half neatly into a pint jar, with sorghum between on a day she hadn't made a REAL dessert.Image result for banana pudding in a vintage mason jar
The only free photo I could find with a LID on---it's kinda anemic in the puddin' part, because nobody except organic purists seems to have those good "yellow yawked" eggs any more.

Peas and cornbread, porkchops and gravy, cobbler and banana pudding traveled the several miles on the “dinner shelves” and the dishes were returned empty with the quittin’-time train. I’ve also wondered if any of the men swapped lunches, as do schoolchildren, for a favorite dish from someone else’s kitchen. If they did, I'll bet they didn't let on when they got home.

And so I’ve had two Mothers-in-Law whose maiden names were Greene/Green, both both of them kind, lovely women who welcomed me to their families like a daughter, and became more than my husband’s Mother---they were and are my dear friends.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


These are in the upstairs kitchen---Caro's domain. I'd had visions of putting lots of lovely pastel glassware and dishes into these cabinets. We took off the almost-black doors and painted all the kitchen that wasn't yellow formica, including the shelves which divided all the cabinets into neat sections.

I bought dozens of the little plastic doohickeys which stick into the holes in the sides of the cabinets to hold up the shelves---clear ones. Wrong size. I got so involved in Life And Other Things, I just tossed the bags in a drawer and left it "for later." And the shelves---alas, the shelves. They got slotted on their edges between cabinet and fridge for who-knows-how-long, and when I just couldn't stand it any longer trying to wrestle broom or mop out of the alley, they got put somewhere out in the garage (still for "later") and are there now, probably under fifteen boxes of Southern Living, sandwiched between the cute little cherry-buffet-that-pulls-out-into-a-table and Caro's first piano.

So everything is in a tall thin space, and for some things, like tall vases and pitchers, it's OK, but for small clumps of round things, they just crouch in a puddle of color at the bottom of their niche, like a flock of chicks under the big sky.

And the "later" turned out to be about eight years, as we used the sunny spot in that kitchen as home for the Volkswagen-sized birdcage for our Blue and Gold macaw, and with all the cannisters filled with peanuts and bird food and treats and fortune cookies and expired cereal and nuts---well, it turned into HIS kitchen, with the counters and stove lightly dusted with bird fluff at all times.

Then, he went to live with friends, and Caro went into cleaning mode. With a vengeance. She scrubbed and cleaned and mopped and sanitized that place like a Crime-Scene Cleanup crew. Then she started delving into cabinets, shelves, boxes-never-unpacked, and treated the whole place like one of those TV "use your own stuff, but improve your home" shows, getting something from my china cabinet, something from a wall downstairs, mingling and arranging and making just wonderful displays.

The shelves are mostly grouped by color---there's Yellow:

A corn-shaped tureen (one of those bits of ceramic ware that I pick up on Goodwill shelves, and think of sometimes as Made in Therapy, a tall coffee urn which matches a set of yellow octagonal plates, and a lovely, buttery-sheened tureen with jonquils, made by my talented Sis during her first pregnancy as her young husband spent endless hours and days in Med School:

Then there's blue---several shades, mostly teal and turquoise. The little glass fridge bowls were collected over several years, and I love their little shapes and colors. They take having "things in dishes" in the fridge to a whole new level. The pitcher with its several-colors-of-glasses was the "fancy set" in our house in the Fifties, and I've always been afraid the handle would come off its moorings and pour something over a pretty tablecloth:

And burgundy. I do not know anything about the two pitchers, save that they make me happy to look at them, the way the light glints off the smooth crockery. The ball one is marked "HALL" in a black circle, with the number 633, and the other just has a pressed-into-the-clay-before-glazing "Made in USA" with the burgundy paint puddled into the deep lettering.

The jewelly grapes are from a going-out-of-business sale at Waccamaw (anyone remember those stores?) and I think they probably cost fifty cents---we got LOADS of frosty fruit at that sale, including two boxes of golden apples, marked $19.99 on each box of a dozen. The 75% off sale rang them up at 5.00 per box, and when we opened the boxes that Christmas, we discovered that each apple had a $19.99 dangly price tag!

The center tray is the "one thing left from our wedding presents" which were given my parents so many years ago---Mother treasured it and would barely let me WASH it, let alone put food on it for serving. When we were sharing out the household goods after she died and Daddy had sold the house, I noticed a small sticker of adhesive tape on the back, with her name in that distinctive left-handed slant.
I've always wondered whose funeral or church doings would have been of such import as to warrant her using that precious, forbidden piece of dishware.