Friday, April 30, 2010


Image from the Internet

My childhood friend Gloria lived in a creaky-board old house, around-a-block-and-down-the-block from Mammaw’s house---in exactly the same place on that block. But it could have been in another town or another country, compared to Mammaw’s neat yard full of flowers and brick edgings and that huge, bountiful garden out back which supplied three families’ freezers.

Gloria’s house was a ratty old thing, much bigger than Mammaw’s---good thing, for Mammaw’s three-room shotgun did well to house the four of them (and I STILL don’t know where they all slept). And Gloria had five brothers, to whom could have been laid the broken windows, the hangy-down screendoors, the screens like rump-sprung skirts, flappy-cornered on the big three-sides porch, and the absolutely naked yard all around---foot-stomped and body-slammed every day of the week.

In the Summer, the boys all slept on pallets on that porch, under those huge old trees for the cool of the night, and I don’t know how they lived through it---the screens were dark-rust blankety things, so stretched and so clogged with grime that they sucked in and out like old curtains whenever the wind blew. They were certainly not attached to the rims in enough places to foil the hordes of mosquitoes which inhabited that yard from dusk til dawn.

They lived just down the street from the “flowin’ well” and we loved to go down there and let the coldcold water run over our bare feet after we’d sorta rinsed our hands enough to cup them full of that wonderful water and get a good long drink. The “well” was an artesian flow, from a big curved red pipe, gushing out onto an area of flat pavers laid so you could walk up and fill a jug or a bucket. And in my childhood, quite a few people still did “go get water” every morning and night, up to and including for dishwashing and their baths.

The flat stones were slick and mossy in places, with the onslaught of the water making the little growth of green wave and sway like the face-fur of a car-window dog. I’d sit on the low brick wall, watching the hypnotic dance of the green stuff, thinking how it looked like the seaweed in movies we’d seen, trancing myself into being underwater, swimming down deep.

We’d dare each other to walk the flats, rocking-in-places and uneven like broken-up tombstones.  We'd cling our toes tight  to the slick surfaces, trying to make it past the slippery outskirts, treacherous with moss, to take one quick leap without our feet sliding out from under us, and to land in the drier grass past the ledge.

One year Gloria had a party on her birthday. It’s marked for me, for I never knew her to have one before, and I was the only guest. I was at Mammaw’s for the weekend, having arrived on Friday after school, and she came over and invited me on Saturday morning. Like a kid, I thought nothing of the short notice, and Mammaw got out her pocketbook and gave me a little money out of her old black snap-top change-purse.. My heart lifted when she pulled several dollars out of that tiny stronghold, but she fished around down in there and for the first time in my nine years, handed me two quarters, with the gravity of paying off the mortgage.


I went to Aunt Lou’s store and pondered my choices; socks were a possibility, as were underwear in those days---we thought nothing of wrapping up a pretty pair of panties for a girlfriend’s present, and since the boxes almost always looked the same as handkerchief boxes, a discreet word to the honoree, and she’d hold up the box, say who it was from with a smile, and to the laughter of all boys present, and then slide the unopened box under her chair.

A little glass bottle, much like those in the big grocery spice-racks today, with a foil-wrapped stick of Zia cologne was a popular gift---I can still smell the acrid-sweet of those, as well as hear the little muffled cloomp as you shook the bottle in your hand. There was also the choice of a nylon “neck-scarf”—a foot-square scrap of nylon, mostly solid, but sometimes in checks; we all had several colors, and wore them tied off to the side of our necks, kinda like cowboys, but WAY chic.

I finally settled on a little year-diary with a tiny lock and a poodle-charm on the keychain. I appeared at the appointed time, expecting to see a table with the crinkly white paper tablecloth with HAPPY BIRTHDAY around the edges, and a balloon or two flanking the cake-with-pink-roses, which was all I had ever seen for a girl’s birthday. (Except, of course, for the cakes made and decorated at home with a set of grocery-store letters in those hanging packages, those squeezed-out-tiny-points of rock-hard icing, like tee-ninecy stalagmites spelling out Happy Birthday. The few matching candle-holders didn’t fit any candle known to man). Those were mostly for boys, in awful color combinations like yellow and brown, and featuring rocket ships or lassos.

The cake sat on the same old bird-spattered, faded-to-gray wood picnic table we sat at most afternoons (well-scrubbed and hosed down earlier, with the dirt still damp beneath our feet). It was a “bought cake” all right, but it was an odd little thing. Aunt Lou’s shelves always held a half-dozen or so of those---white cake, which you could plainly see through the cellophane, for they were like you’d made a LONG loaf cake,with frosting between the two layers and all around top and sides, and cut it into six-inch sections, with the two cut ends left naked.

There were no games or contests, unless you counted her brothers’ whooping dashes around the yard, or their swinging all up into the trees, or wrestling each other in that damp dirt.
We just talked for a while at the table, sitting on those splintery planks attached to the X of the table-legs. There were no candles, but we sang, and then she took the cellophane off the cake, cut it lengthwise in half, and those each into four slices. She deftly placed the slices on eight plates, DARED her brothers to touch them, and opened the two little square cartons of “ice milk” with their dark green cardboard sides. It was fifteen cents a carton, I remember, for Mammaw might send me around the block for one now and then, to divide amongst us three for an after-supper treat.

She cut the cartons open, then sliced each little block into four. When she’d placed the first block on a plate, she directed one of the boys to “take that to Mama,” and he disappeared into the house with it. We all then ate our cake and ice cream and talked a bit around the table before the boys dived back into yelling fists-and-elbows action, I suppose showing off for the party guest.

I remember every moment of that party, as if it’s a movie I’ve watched so many times I can repeat the dialogue. My most vivid memory of it, though, is when Gloria’s Mama finally came outside; she’d stood holding the screendoor open for a moment, just framed there in her faded loose dress, then came gingerly down the steps toward us.

She collapsed into the big faded-red lawn chair, and said she hoped I’d enjoyed Gloria’s party. I said I really had, and was glad I was there that weekend. She sat, feet outstretched, regarding her immensely-swollen feet and ankles, and said, “She just told me about it this mornin’ and I wish she’d have give me more notice. I coulda cooked up some chicken-backs or somethin’.”
The simple resignation and acceptance and open-handed generosity in those words have haunted me for decades.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Oh, Thank you!!! Thank you all for sharing this once-in-a-lifetime moment, as we welcome a small one who will weave his own threads into our family tapestry.

We're so grateful and so humble to accept this gift, and will do everything we can to do our part in his life.

I cannot write of him just yet, of height and weight and eyes and hair color---it's still too tender and fragile a spot in our hearts, so filled with the magic of this special blessing we've been given.

And Rebecca---I don't know how you hit upon it, unless I've written of it before, but Ganner is Chris' Grand-Dad name, bestowed by our Gracie when she lived with us. It started as GrandDear, and of course was re-done by her sweet baby voice.
We'll have her and the rest of the Georgia clan here as soon as school's out, for a couple of weeks, and then we'll go South to meet our New (as he's been referred to in every prayer and Blessing-at-meals since we've known of his coming). We'd always say "Amen" and then hold out our hands, in successively larger little cup-nests, as he grew, and now, we hold out our arms to hold him.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Cake by Aunt Caro
(Click on it to look closer)

Our Littlest has arrived, and they're all well and healthy. He's the first grandson of this generation to bear the family name, and we're all just so glad that everything went well, and he's HERE.

Chris asked if we shouldn't go out and celebrate, and instead, we spent a quiet evening at home, a bowl of homemade Egg-Drop soup our celebratory meal, and big glasses of sweet tea our champagne.

We're thrilled and humbled by the vast treasure entrusted to us, and will be going to visit in a couple of weeks, as soon as Mother and Baby are up to a visit.

I thank you all for your inquiries and prayers and good wishes---sharing this news with you is a wonderful part of this blessing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


We’re about to be GrandParents for the seventh time, and we’ve counted the blessing of that every single day since we’ve known about our little-one-to-come. I think the roles of the Grands---both us older generation and the brand new one--have changed in many ways, especially in my lifetime. The days of “seen and not heard” and living life at a remove from the small ones have almost disappeared, with a closeness and a closing-in of the generations, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.

I love the names for Grandparents---and the South is just a treasure-trove of names, of every sort. Some of the ones most used are:

Grandma, Grandmaw, Grammaw---just as it sounds
Mammaw---my Grandmothers---both were Mammaw, with the paternal one set apart by her initial---Mammaw J.

Meemaw, Mimi, Grandmam, GrandMary, Bomo, Nana, Nanny, Maw, Muh-Dear, MeeMee, Big Mama, Two-Mama, Beau Mere and Frances. I’ve heard all of these from children referring to their Grandmothers.

Grandpas have a different place, a different relationship with grandchildren; my own Dad and GrandDad were both called by their first names by my children. I cannot remember how that came about; it was not disrespectful---it just sounded sweet in those baby voices, and a matter of habit later on.

Papa and Pappaw are two of the most popular Grandpa names, I think.

I have, just recently, known of a Step-Grandfather, married later in life to a woman with grandchildren, to choose the name Faux-Paw. Clever and charming.

Children do not lack for names, either:
Grand or grands ditto
Grandgirl or Grandboy A still-lingering-in-some-parts name for a grandchild, quite often pronounced “gull” and “baweh.”
My own are variously called Sweetpea, Dolling, and Sugar, depending on what pops out of my mouth.

New Baby newborn to several months

Knee baby---Usually second youngest, still clinging to Mama’s knee while she works or nurses the youngest.
Last babies are seldom known as Knee-baby, because there is no one in the lap to usurp their place.

The word Baby is used to refer to an infant to school-age in some circles---all the way up into said baby’s middle age by some doting parents. Baby is often used to refer to the child between the New Baby and the Knee Baby.

Even precluding twins, a family could have a new baby, a baby, and a knee baby, all at the same time: new baby was a brand new infant; the baby was just before walking and “pulling up” and the knee baby was still too young to show much independence from Mama, and if he couldn’t be held in her lap much, he’d still cling to her knees or skirt.

Hip Baby: a child carried astride the hip; this could be the above “Baby,” with the New in the crib and the Knee holding onto Mama’s skirt.

Good Hip Baby: one which clung on with legs and hands, instead of just dangling his full weight on his Mama’s supporting arm. Many a Mama did her housework, her cooking, and even the ironing with a little one clinging to her side, and so the words “Good hip baby” were a compliment of sorts, meaning an ahead-of-his age child, alert and capable of balance, and doing his part in the partnership.

And little children picked up the names given their siblings---Give your Brother that toy; Go get Sister to comb your hair. So they called them what they heard, and the names hung on---that’s probably the reason we have more folks called Bubba or Sissy per square mile than anywhere else in the country.

Southern families have Aunts, Aints and Onts and Ontees, depending on their pronunciation preferences. These are all also used in referring to Great Aunts, as well as various relationships of older women throughout the family and circle of friends.

We were not of the social elevation which had Onts and Ontees; we did, however, have Aunt Lou, Aunt Katie, and two Aunt Marys---one Great, one regular. Then we had Aint Bessie and Aint Lo; I have no idea why they were different---perhaps because both had a few hitches in life which made them either risqué or ridiculous.

And we also had one called Fadannie (Fat Auntie)---she wasn’t, except for her prow of bosom. I never questioned it, as she was called that way before I was born, but now I shudder that we said that as easily as we said Mammaw.

Uncles are just uncles---the only variation on the theme being Unca---they were sort of a set-back adjunct of all the Aunts, a necessary appendage of sorts, who drove Aunts places and then ate heartily, reached a toothpick from the little glass holder on the table and headed outside to the shade, where they talked amongst themselves and perfumed the air with their cigarettes and cigars. Since neither my Daddy nor my Grandpa had one, I thought that the pretty watches and chains stretched across their vast vest-fronts were the special province of Uncles only.

I will mention that in the time of my own memory, older African-American men and women were called “Auntie” and “Uncle” by the white people---I can remember being coached and even browbeaten into saying it---I thought it was demeaning and tacky to people who were certainly old enough to be accorded a child's respect, and sometimes I felt so bad about saying it, I’d go out in the yard if I could and spit the taste out of my mouth.

Cousins are cousins, and I’m dizzy enough without talking about all that once-removed stuff here.

Double First Cousins---though I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any double SECOND cousins (that would require too much math)---occur when two siblings marry two other siblings, so that the children of both matches are ALL cousins, from every angle.

Chris and I have some of those in both our families, in our grandparents’ generation. I think the world was just so small then, and the dating pool WAY circumscribed by location and transportation, and you married the boy next door, cause he was THERE, and then his sister met your brother---and life went on.

I’m not gettin’ into Half Cousins or Cousin-and-a-half (usually pronounced hafe) with Y’all. And forget about Cousins on my Mama’s side and Last Cousins and Shirt-tail relations and all that. I'm runnin' out of steam this busy day.

And now you know---whenever My Grand-Girl’s knee-baby or my Double-First-Cousin’s Ontee comes up in conversation, you’ll be right in step.
Any GrandParent names you'd like to share, or any you've got picked out for SOMEDAY?
PS Susan Adcox of has done me the honor of asking to link this post to her own post today. Thank you, Susan!!

Monday, April 26, 2010


I’ve been asked about a particular purely-Southern usage of the word “one” which SEEMS quite superfluous, but is quite a part of the language. We learn it as a matter of course, as a part of our regional idiom, and it never occurs to us that those from “off” might find it strange.

It’s an either/or term, in which a choice of two or more items/actions/people are spoken of in a sentence in which the word either is not used. The natural finish to the sentence is then “, one.” Comma one. (Sometimes hussied up as “one or the other”---often shortened to “wonner thother.”---th pronounced as in the, not in throw).

He’s goin’ to the dance with Libby Sue or Wanda Fay, one.

I’m cookin’ ham or porkchops, one.

He’s drivin’ home or stayin’ at Mammaw’s, one.

Some of the best usage of this little Southern conceit was displayed in Olive Ann Burns’ Cold Sassy Tree, especially in conversation by Will Tweedy, the narrator, who takes on the youthful voice of a teenage self, telling the story.

And there’s one telling line from Grandpa Blakeslee, as he told his two dismayed and outraged daughters of his approaching re-marriage to his store employee, just three weeks after Grandma Blakeslee had passed away:

I ain’t go’n be no burden on y’all. Not ever. Which means I got to hire me a colored woman or get married, one, and tell you the truth, hit’s just cheaper to have a wife.

All clear, now?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


My heart is heavy today, for the news of all the devastation in Mississippi---Yazoo City was hardest hit, and the loss of life and property is incalculable at this moment of stunned dismay and sorrow.

I send my thoughts and prayers to everyone Back Home, in this time of heartbreak and loss, and have only the greatest admiration and pride in the indomitable, unconquerable spirit which rebuilds again and again in the face of yet another devastating moment in our state's history.

God Bless all the folks in Mississippi---those standing in the wreckage of a long-cherished home, those looking out across an unfamiliar landscape strewn with the treasures of centuries, and those who are waiting for news of the welfare of their loved ones.

And most of all---to those whose loss of family or friends is uncountable. Our hearts are with you, and our prayers lifted for you in this so-tragic time.

I wish you Grace and Peace and Comfort, as you mourn and rebuild and recover.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Willie's hands on his old Martin---from the Internet

The best line in all of country music was written by the husband-wife team of Ed and Patsy Bruce.

The song is “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” and the line is a world and a philosophy and a creed, all in a small quatrain:

Cowboys like smoky old poolrooms and clear mountain mornin’s.

Little warm puppies and children and girls of the night.

Them that don’t know him won’t like him, and those that do sometimes don’t know how to take him;

He ain’t wrong, he’s just DIFFERENT, and his pride won’t let him do things to make YOU think he’s right.

Breathless over that. Simply undone.

And then there’s one that Alabama sings---Randy said that once when they were on tour, a man handed him a tiny tape recorder and asked if they’d listen to it when they got time. And so, after the performance, and in one of those endless midnight drives to the next appearance, they did. And to quote Randy (sorta): There was nothin’ NOT GOOD on that tape.

The song which captured them first:

There’s an old flame burnin’ in your eyes,

Which tears can’t drown and makeup can’t disguise.

That flame might not be stronger, but it’s been burnin’ longer,

Than any spark I might have started in your eyes.

I think of the long-night sittings in hotel rooms, dingy apartments, on someone else’s couch, with a pawnshop guitar across your knees, letting the words pour out, taking them apart, letting them flow, as the sorrows and the blues and the grims mingle into an anthem or a shout or a hymn of lost love or old times or friendships tried and proved.

The old poets wailed and praised and put words into unforgettable tales and lauds, but few used their words as cleverly to tell their stories as do the writers of Country Music.

And if Kris Kristofferson had never done another thing in his life, this would be enough:

Well I woke up Sunday morning,

With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt.

And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad,

So I had one more for dessert.

Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes,

And found my cleanest dirty shirt.

An' I shaved my face and combed my hair,

An' stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

I'd smoked my brain the night before,

On cigarettes and songs I'd been pickin'.

But I lit my first and watched a small kid,

Cussin' at a can that he was kicking.

Then I crossed the empty street,'n caught

the Sunday smell of someone fryin' chicken.

And it took me back to somethin',

That I'd lost somehow, somewhere along the way.

In the park I saw a daddy,

With a laughin' little girl who he was swingin'.

And I stopped beside a Sunday school,

And listened to the song they were singin'.

Then I headed back for home,

And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringin'.

And it echoed through the canyons,

Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.

On the Sunday morning sidewalk,

Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.

'Cos there's something in a Sunday,

Makes a body feel alone.

And there's nothin' short of dyin',

Half as lonely as the sound,

On the sleepin' city sidewalks,

Sunday mornin' comin' down.

Country music is a force of its own, the true American anthem, born of the smoke-filled, heat-seared moments with naught between you and life save guitar and words. And how many of those thousands of hopeful pilgrimages to Nashville result in success, I wonder. How many send the minstrels and the poets back home to the bays of mechanic's shops or farm chores or cubicle warrens, where the words-which-could-have-been languish in a forgotten drawer.

How many a Poet Lariat shares his thoughts and prayers and tunes with only night air and the stars? And how many of the song-filled people persevere, how many still compose and rhyme, their sparks never flickering out.

I’ve been thinking about this subject for a long time, and yesterday Keetha wrote such a wonderful post in that I thought I’d put down a little bit so I could link it today.

She’s a fresh-air read, and knows the South. She also puts words together like nobody's business.

And is there a line in a song which captures YOUR interest or imagination? Is there a BEST EVER one for you?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


And how big the World.

There’s a SOMETHING in the air this morning---a sense of anticipation, I think, for we are awaiting news of a new arrival very soon. There is a little cool to the outdoors, with the sun streaming down the stairs and the breath of the breeze following along, with a still-in-the-forties linger which brings out the floofy socks and just one more cup of coffee.

We got great and wonderful things accomplished yesterday---all the laundry done, with a dozen new cotton T’s for Chris, six black and six red, which he wears daily beneath his denim shirts. All the older fresh-washed ones folded into a bag for Goodwill, and all the news into the drawer. I always circulate everything new through the washer and dryer---socks (a dozen new pairs, ditto) and all cottons. We’ve used “pink-top”---we call it that even on the grocery list---since Our Littlest was born, and we like it for our laundry as well. It’s Purex Ultra for Baby, it does a great job, everything smells line-fresh, and it suits us just fine.

I just have babies on my mind today, with that little tingle of just-can’t-wait and the sense of great responsibility and awe that a new life in the family brings. So much care and so much joy and so much to teach them and learn from them.

One of the sweetest things I ever knew a Mama to say was something I read years ago. A woman was visiting her neighbor, whose two-year old interrupted their conversation several times, not impolitely or insistently, but with little moments and items and ideas he was eager to share.

When the Mom had come back to the table for about the third time from a little trip to see something with her child, the neighbor mentioned that she certainly was an attentive Mom.
The lady said, “Well, I brought him into the World. The least I can do is let him show it to me.”

How lovely a thing it must be to see everything fresh and new through a child’s eyes!! How much wonder and interest and sheer joy in the looking, the taking in, the watching of things; how much fun in the touching and the trying-out and the tasting and the use.

I don’t EVER want to outgrow that. I work on it every day, and even on the days that my old knees are protesting and my back has mentioned several times that it would be prudent not to get down in the grass, I realize that bending low and looking close, like for the very first time, with fresh young eyes to guide me, is the most wonderful view in the world.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Photo from A TASTE OF HOME

This time last year, we were in eager anticipation of a visit from the first-and-only online friend I've ever met Eye-Arrr-Elll, as they say in textspeak. Kim and I had met on a recipe and cooking site, and we commented back and forth on each others' cooking and parties and kitchens, etc.

Then we started to e-mail, and found so many things and ideas and principles in common, we just hit it off like sisters. After a couple of years of sorta/kinda planning to meet SOMEDAY, I got a hushhush e-mail from an address I did not recognize, with the header: "SHHHH! It's Kim's husband."

He said that he'd thought of something for Kim for Christmas, and he thought she'd really like it. She had spoken so often of wanting to arrange a visit, he decided to give her a trip here to meet us---reservations at a pretty little B&B for a long weekend, and time to just sit and talk and visit. They'd lived fairly near here years ago, so there was no real need for sightseeing, he said---just getting some time to sit and talk.

He said he hoped it was not too presumptuous of him to just invite themselves, so to speak, but he'd really like to give her the trip, if we didn't mind.

And who would MIND being so nicely thought of and so flattered at the idea? Certainly not I.

So we planned it, dashing off secret e-mails back and forth during November, our picking a lovely B&B for them to stay in, and the happy preparations for a pleasant happening. We picked a weekend in April, when the green would be out, and the weather pleasant for just sitting in the arbor or on the patio, and for the lawn to be getting into its Spring dress and hat.

He gave her the brochure for the B&B, the plane tickets, and a note from me in her Christmas package.

And so, this time last year, I was putting the finishing touches on the house, getting the lawn people here for the final mow-and-trim, getting the silver polished and the dishes all chosen for each meal, along with the tablecloths and napkins and other little things which accompany the arrival of long-anticipated guests. COMPANY'S COMING!.

And this coming Friday, the twenty-third of April, is the day we met. When they drove up, we laughed and smiled and sort of went running toward each other, practically with those strains of running-in-the-meadow music. We talked for a while and then set out brunch on the patio; we ate and talked some more, the guys drove over and checked them into the B&B, and we two ladies simply TALKED.

We brought in the dishes, we talked and got to know each other, we sat in the arbor and chatted, we came in for something cool to drink; the guys went and did guy stuff around town, and we just sat, looking at family pictures and just being together.

We DID go out to dinner twice, and had a big family brunch here on Sunday before their departure, and it was one of the most memorable weekends I've ever spent. And so, my friend Kim and I feel as if we've known each other since childhood, I think. She's a marvelous cook and wonderful hostess, and she has just started her own blog, about their home and cooking and travels.

In the Lemon Chess Pie post last week, she mentioned her Grandmother's pie, and I asked for the recipe, so here it is:

Here you go, Rachel:

My Lemon Chess Pie

1 1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. butter

3 eggs, well beaten

1/4 c. lemon juice

grated zest of 2 lemons

pinch of salt

1 pie shell or 16 tart shells - baked blind; about 3 minutes

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, salt, lemon juice and zest. Pour into shell(s). Bake 10 minutes at 300 degrees. Raise the temperature to 350 and bake about 30 - 35 minutes longer.

This is based on my grandmother's chess pie - I just added lemon juice and zest. I can't explain the lack of cornmeal - every other recipe I've ever seen has cornmeal, like yours does. But she makes the most toothsome, moist chess pie I've ever tasted.

I'm gonna get the oven going in a little bit; I can't think of anything nicer on a cool Spring day, than to waft the scent of a lemony pie baking all throughout the house.

Friday, April 16, 2010


My Mother often told stories of “how things were” during her childhood, and one of the most memorable for her, and also for me, in the hearing, were the Birthday Parties given by a man in her little hometown. Mr. and Mrs. White were about the age of my grandparents, and they had no children, so on Mr. White's birthday every year, they would have a party and invite every child in town out to their farm for the afternoon.

I assumed these events were during the Thirties, and with things as they were all over the country at that time, I’m sure that these grand treats WERE memorable to all those children, when an orange in the toe of a stocking and a candycane hung onto the top were considered a good Christmas.

They all dressed up for the afternoon in their best outfits, with most of the girls in their one good dress, usually with some kind of pinafore. The boys usually wore jeans or overalls beneath their “nice” jackets---the one picture I’ve seen has all the guys in that Summer heat, most of them wearing the top half of Barney Fife’s best suit---that heavy, tweedy thing out of of fabric that looks like a badly-hooked rug, or perhaps the cast-off suit-coats of their fathers, ill-fitting and slick with wear. They dressed to honor the occasion and their hosts, in the best that they had.

Lots of pin-curling and ribbon-borrowing amongst the girls up and down Mother’s block, and the boys all slicked their hair down in the most gentlemanly fashion. Some of the children who lived close by walked down the country road to the party, a bunch piled into the backs of several old wood-side trucks, and one dad hitched up a big haywagon, with blankets spread in the back for the children to sit on, like a grand parade.

They played the games of the day, like The Prince of Wales Has Lost His Considering Cap---a great long recitation of Who, Sir, Me, Sir? and No, Sir, Not I, Sir, said veryvery fast, which I never did catch on to as any fun, except maybe the tongue-twister made everyone giggle. They did running games, like Drop the Handkerchief, and played Farmer in the Dell and London Bridge.

The refreshments were served on big long saw-horse tables covered in sheets, and there were enough plates and spoons for everyone, but each child brought a drinking-glass or cup from home. There were big galvanized buckets of water filled with long clear shards of chipped ice, as well as buckets of LEMONADE with ice delivered in Mr. Bridges’ ice truck that morning. There was lots of traffic at those big buckets, for the chunks of ice were a great treat, too, -and deemed worth the price of nearly-frozen fingers holding them until they could be crunched and slurped away. And the bolder of the boys would filch the bobbing lemon halves to enjoy, as well.

The bigger boys were put to work turning the cranks of eight or ten freezers of homemade boiled-custard ice cream, made with big ole orange-yolked eggs from their many hens, and cream-rich milk from their own cows. Watkins vanilla flavored half the ice cream, and crushed strawberries went into the other several freezers. There was one particular woman in town whose specialty was making the custard for ice cream, and she was quite busy during Summer months.

Mrs. White and her cook and a couple of other women hired to help had been baking for days---enough rich, golden cake layers for five or six three-layer coconut cakes. She had to special-order the coconuts from Aunt Lou’s grocery store, for coconuts were only stocked at Christmas and Thanksgiving. And I shudder to think how LONG it took them to crack them, knock and pick out all that thick, succulent coconut meat, then peel off the thin brown rind and grate those piles of coconut.

I don’t imagine the Seven-Minute frosting was made until the morning of the party, for it doesn’t hold up for a very long time. All those golden yolks went into the cakes, and the whites (one recipe at a time, of course) went into the top of a double boiler, to whip with sugar and water for every second of that Seven Minutes, into a billowy sweet cloud which was swirled between and on top and sides of all those cakes. Handful after handful of coconut was pressed upon the frosting, until every inch was covered. Coconut was Mr. White’s favorite cake, and perhaps some children don’t care for it---this group ate up every crumb.

And then the final touch, a luxury unheard-of in that place before or since: Mr. White also arranged with Aunt Lou for an entire stalk or two of bananas and had them hanging splendidly from one of the big pecan trees in their yard.

I think this was one of my Mother’s fondest memories of her childhood---such a wonderful party to celebrate the birthday of a grownup who made sure each and every young guest had a lovely time and plenty of wonderful treats, and who was at heart no older than they.

Marion Post Wolcott photo, 1939

Thursday, April 15, 2010


A little girl in a big yellow plastic tub, her curls swept up with my wet hands; bobby pins from my own updo tooth-opened as I gathered up her goldy-brown hair.

A green watering can used to fill and pour, re-cycling the tub water back in upon itself, over and over; giggles as the pour ventures out upon the sidewalk; request with PLEASE for more water when the tub's level grows low.

A breakfast-for-three with an unaccustomed cereal box on the table---I don’t remember having cereal in years; I bought this because I thought we might, though we’ve eaten it only as a snack from a tiny Tupperware while communing with such as Grover and Elmo and Bert. Soft, butter-sizzled hot-dog-bun toast, smeared with a tiny slick of peach/apricot jam---a new squatty-pot thing from Smucker’s, and WOW Good.

A little bowl of strawberries, a few sticks of still-creamy Cheddar carved from the big Sam’s block; coffee in my sky-blue cup set down beside me as I sat right here at this desk five minutes after rising. The rumble of Chris’ voice during the Blessing, as we reach our hands out and hold tight, hold tight. 
A long walk round the neighborhood, with two red leashes---Girl and Pup, who both ran and chuckled all the way, stopping only to consult the grass, a rock, the customary fire hydrant (girl, not dog---she's fond of reading the letters all the way around. The other day as we rounded the corner and the tall yellow post hove in sight, she called out, "There you are!! I've MISSED you!" and ran and threw her arms around it). And guess what lucky Granny came home with dogpoo in her pocket.

Clothes on the neighbor’s line, like sails of a tall ship, but better, for they connote not travel for adventure, but the keeping of the Where You Are.

Clothes---anything just-washed---flapping on the line; that SO celebrates a Spring day, as much as daffodils.

What I imagine to be a very small bird is, for the first time ever in my hearing, actually saying Tweet Tweet in an ascending octave of sound. It’s a fairy-tale scale come to life over yonder in that tallest tree, and punctuates the already-full morning with almost more brightness than can be safely borne all at once.

I think of a word I don’t believe I’ve ever used---certainly not in conversation, I don’t think---but it fits: the liquescence of that melody is beyond mere music. It’s also color and sound and the sun through the trees.

There’s a surfeit to this day---a Gracious Plenty. The yard’s ringed round with green---spin in a circle and you’ll see every shade there is. The house, the garage, the hedges and trees wall us into this great bore of sun down into this small well of US. We’re set down deep, deep, in this big yellow tub of sun, and you could almost drown in the light and the music and the IS.

And what brights YOU today?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Two Queens of the Mississippi.

I have learned a new word. Well, KINDA. It’s a word I’ve always known, but I assigned it a different source, thinking that my derivation MUST be the one.

I’d always loved the idea of a STATEROOM. Traveling by train would be my first choice in the world of all travel, with those lovely compartments with their everything-in-its-wee-place demeanor and the air of mystery and luxurious accommodations and ventures into the unknown. Even one of those climb-in berths with the pull-together curtains and strangers stacked around like books on shelves would be an adventure, because you're ON A TRAIN, clacking through the night, to wake in different places, different climes. Not to speak of the elegance and luxury of visiting the DINING CAR.




Every one bespeaks adventure and luxury and vistas of things unknown. Those faraway places ARE calling, call---ing me. And though thoughts of all those exotically-named rail lines outclass plain old AMTRAK by a country mile, I’d take it any day, just for the going.

But traveling by SHIP, now. If I had the nerve to do it, THAT would be most luxurious of all, with all the foofaraw about seatings and Captain’s Tables and mezzanines and lido and following the strains of music from dancing in the ballroom to jazz in the lounge and the sway of As Time Goes By in the piano bar, with wonderful food piled forth at all hours of the clock, happy people of leisure and wit to mingle with, and those charming fittings of the bedchambers and baths.

And to me, having never really thought of it any other way than first impression, Staterooms were for people of STATE, the STATEly people, people of eSTATE and those who made STATEments for others to heed and obey.
I’d seen movies, and those folks in the furs and top-hats stayed in rooms you could get a grand piano in (and some HAD one), with shining crystal just sitting there on the bars, and beds all-satin-draped and cushy, whilst the raggedy crowd, the fleeing-to-another-country types with their slouch-hats and kerchiefs and baggy pants (and you could TELL they didn’t have a bath between one port and the next)----THOSE had the one-room-for-all with the dingy hammocks and bunks.

So, I took my definition as gospel, and left it so, though I never once thought what that fact might ascribe to those of us whose families arrived by STEER-age.

And then just this past Saturday, as we do often, we had early-morning tea, still in our night-clothes, with barely a lamp lit save the bright little one over the breakfast table. Chris had been re-reading one of his Louis L’Amour books---he’s always said that there are Westerns, and then there are Books About The West, but these books are for everybody, for L’Amour wrote such fleshed-out characters and such evocative stories, that his books are about PEOPLE who happen to LIVE in the West.

Chris often calls out to me from whatever part of the house he’s in when he’s reading, to share with me an especially beautiful paragraph or phrase or thought, or a memorable description or incident or something about an old custom or idiom which he finds interesting.

And so we sat there in our little isolated pool of light, with his deep rumbly voice reading me the beautiful words, and presently, the estimable LL mentioned the building of several riverboats---sternwheelers and sidewheelers, with their ornate lacework and gingerbread, their promenades and balconies and bright paintwork and gilt.

And it happened that Mr. Shreve, founder of Shreveport, LA., was one of the part-owners of quite a sizeable fleet of the boats, and his notion was to paint the name of a state on each cabin door, instead of a number---hence the name “Staterooms.”

Well, O-KAAAY, if History insists. Mine was way classier.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Internet photo

A Springtime dessert, yellow and bright and lit with the tang of lemon, the richness of an eggy custard, and that mysterious little Southern something---the addition of cornmeal to a chess pie. I guess that's what makes it CHESS, and not custard or cream.

Chess pies have been around a LONG time, I imagine. If a cook had a bit of storebought sugar, or even the homemade cooked-off cane syrup, she could come up with quite a creditable pie by just going to the meal bin, the chicken yard for several good old orange-yolked eggs still warm from the hens, a hunk of fresh-churned butter, dewy and cool from the springhouse, and the flour and lard which were staples in every kitchen.

Vanilla was the norm, but if you had a lemon----oh, the joys of a bit of citrus in the house!! I don't imagine many readers of today remember the thrill of finding a plump juicy orange in the Christmas stocking, or the sighs and the pacing between the candy counter and the honored, padded box of fresh Florida oranges, both safely out of reach of grubby hands. The choosing between the coveted sweets, so bright in their shining colors, their exotic flavors of licorice and clove and strawberry, the charm of those tiny wax bottles filled with a toothaching, sugary KoolAid kin, the dainty mystery of those hard candies with the pictures magically painted all-through---weighed against the amount of pleasure that an afternoon of sucking on that orange, then the cutting-open of its depleted contents, to pull every last shred out with your eager teeth, the whole experience one of exotic flavor and scent which lingered upon your breath and fingers long into the day---those were decisions of childish gravity and import, and could consume an hour of the grocer's time, or all his patience, whichever came first.

But a lemon for a pie or a glass of tea---luxury of a particularly satisfying sort. Grated rind, or even finely chopped if you happened not to own one of the new-fangled fancy graters, and a squeeze of the eye-tingling juice made a confection fit for any gathering.

A chilled, rolled crust laid into a piepan, the fragrant custard poured in, the pan gently slid into a hot oven for a time, then the heat turned down a bit for a slow, gentle bake in deference to the temperament of eggs and butter and milk. The top may not quite brown; the pie jiggles ever-the-slightest-bit as it's retrieved from the oven---the fragrance follows its movements to the cooling rack, filling the kitchen with even more of the warm, sugary lemon scent until, if it weren't so HOT, and if you didn't intend it for that special Sunday Dinner tomorrow, you might just forget yourself and grab a spoon for great voluptuous bites, irresistible and even more satisfying for your lapse.

Spring calls for Yellow food, as much as the influx of the GREEN we've been craving. Bright yellow eggs and squash and sumptuous Hollandaise and golden cake layers and frostings and all things LEMON.
Even the richest lunch or dinner, when you've plumb foundered yourself on asparagus and great dollops of that rich Hollandaise, the lamb and the yeasty breads and the peas---or even on a big hot Southern noon DINNER, of humble greens and cornbread and ham and slaw---somehow, when you're full up and cannot eat another bite, a lemon dessert will magically conjure just the niche in your belly made for its receiving. And you'll be replete with that last just-hit-the-spot that a lemony sweet rounds out.

1 stick Butter, softened
2 C. sugar
4 Eggs
1 t. Vanilla
1 T. Meal
¼ C. Pet
2 T. Lemon Juice
2 T. Zest (always zest the lemon first, then roll, cut and squeeze---it's amazing how often we forget the simple order of that)

Whisk meal into sugar in mixing bowl. Cream butter and sugar, then beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in Pet, juice and zest.

9” Pie Shell---oven 425 for 10, 300 for 40. Cool for a while before cutting. If you can resist.

Lemon Bars:
1 box Yellow Cake Mix, 1 Egg, 1 Stick Melted Butter. Mix & pat into 9x13. make about a ¼ inch wall all around edges.

Make pie filling, pour, bake 425 10; 300 25/30. til not too jiggly. Cool in pan before cutting.

Make crumb crust with crushed vanilla wafers and melted butter, or buy one of those made ones.
Separate three VERY fresh eggs. Beat yolks with a Can of Eagle Brand, then with juice from two lemons, plus 2 T. zest. Pour filling into crust and set aside while making meringue.

Beat whites with mixer or whisk. When they hold a peak, beat in 2 T. sugar, then spread on pie, sealing edges well. Brown in 350 oven until pale gold on top.

I think I have only one lemon in the house, and maybe three limes---I think they'd make a lovely combination in SOMETHING. Right now.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Cooking and today's blog post by Caro. Photos by rachel.

Yesterday, I did a little cooking demo for about a dozen people. I had done all the prep work at home---the chopping, the sauce mixing, the filling for the potstickers, the peeling and washing of the shrimp, and pre-blanch of the green beans.

After we arrived at the gorgeous kitchen, I started making the potstickers---they are easy, and the steps just get to be routine:

Lay out and moisten the Gyoza skins:

Put a teaspoon or two of filling on the wrappers:

Teaching our hostess the folding technique:

PROGRESS!! Only 33 to Go!

Place in the Pam-sprayed skillet for browning (if you like them really crispy, use a little slick of oil in the bottom).

Sizzle them til they’re golden-brown on the bottom, then pour in ¼ cup of chicken stock and clap on the lid. Let steam on medium-high for about five minutes, til liquid evaporates. Shake skillet to loosen and slide onto serving platter:

We served these with two sauces:
Rice vinegar/chili paste/garlic and
Soy/ginger/garlic/sugar/water with a float of scallions

They’re going FAST!

While I was making the potstickers, a friend was giving a sushi demo:

Getting ready:

Setting up mise:

Laying out rice on nori:


The finished tray, garnished with peppers carved into shiso leaves. These are Veggie rolls with cucumber, steamed asparagus, colored peppers and a wisp of red onion or a chive, and some are vegetables and shrimp:
Inside-out sushi with vegetables and nori inside, and sesame seed crust:

Other guests also brought contributions:

The hostess made KILLER Hot ‘n’ Sour Soup---lots of bamboo shoots, mushrooms, tree ears, tofu, and fresh Szechwan peppercorns, with a scatter of green onion and float of sesame oil:

Everybody stood enjoying their soup and watching the making of the sushi and the potstickers.
One guest made a wok of Tropical Stir-Fry, with assorted vegetables and edamame, given a unique twist with pineapple and mango:

Seafood Fried Rice---Brown rice, scrambled egg-beaters, peas and Surimi.

Crockpot “Fried Rice” with chicken and vegetables:

And I made the rest of the meal:

First platter was the vegetable stir-fry with Tofu. In a really hot pan, put thin-sliced carrots and ginger. You can see the beans frying in the next pan:

Waiting their turn, in order of addition to the skillet, are Onion, Celery, Peppers and (on the bottom layer) Taiwanese cabbage, which looks exactly like a regular head, except they look as if something sat on them overnight---flattened.

Cubed Tofu---I really like these; they are already browned, very firm and have a meaty quality which holds up well in stir-fries. Beneath the damp towel is another plate of potstickers awaiting the cooking:

Sort of building the dish, as my Grandpa used to say; I’m wearing Mom’s apron made by her friend Maggie.

I used a slurry in two dishes---this one and the shrimp and snow peas. This one was soy sauce, water, sugar, garlic powder and cornstarch. It made the sauce thick and glossy.

The finished dish, with tofu and lightly-steamed broccoli added for the last minute of cooking, to retain texture:

Asian Green Beans. Blanch beans---shock if cooking later, or stir-fry immediately in Pam-sprayed pan. Cook for a few minutes, letting them get a good color on some, and on some edges. Pour in 1/3 cup chicken stock and put lid on. Let steam about five minutes, then add slurry of Soy sauce, sugar, garlic and sesame oil. Cook another couple of minutes til sauce is caramelly and almost evaporated.

Vegetable Lo Mein---a really good “cheater” version I devised, using Udon noodles. In a really hot skillet, Pam-sprayed, sizzle noodles to get a little color:

Add onions and celery:

Add sliced fresh shiitake and shredded Napa cabbage, a few splashes of soy sauce and cook another couple of minutes and serve topped with thinly-sliced scallions. Mom says our Forgotten Thing was the beautiful long strands of carrot which I had made for color---everyone started passing around the little packet to look at them, and so the platter went to table without. It would have been SO much prettier with all the little golden strands mingled in.

Last Dish: Shrimp and Snow Peas:

Strung and washed:

Brightening up:

Add peeled shrimp and cook briefly until slightly pink; add slurry of soy sauce, garlic, cornstarch, water and sugar; cook another minute and serve immediately:

Each dish went to table as it was finished, and everyone tried everything family style:

I also cooked a second plate of potstickers when the first one was gone:

And I had a Tsingtao while I was cooking, even though it was early in the day. COOK'S TREAT! (Well, I’d been UP and at work since 7 p.m. Friday night).

Mom did the pictures and she was sorta having to juggle camera and slurry-making duties while I cooked, plus all the people crowded around to see. I loved cooking for my friends, and enjoyed it very much. They even applauded as the last dish was set onto the table.

Thank you for letting me guest blog, and I’m glad you lasted through it.