Monday, October 29, 2012



Perhaps it was the Black Dress which set the tone of foreboding.


Mr. and Mrs. Duke lived two-houses-down, in one of the big old mill houses, and immediately upon their moving in, had had their two sons from Memphis to come down with ladders and buckets to cover the house’s grim khaki siding with a lively appley green.

I think she did most of the rooms herself, over time, for you’d knock, and enter a deep purple space, where the Fullers had had the dimmish white living room.   Or step through the dining-room arch into a rusty-brown cave, with great wrought-iron sconces whose red glass shades cast an inferno-glow onto the dinnerplates and lent the rich lush air of midnight dining in a Spanish castillo 

The kitchen was schoolbus yellow, with the old green linoleum the only dismal note, and the lighter yellow formica table and plump-vinyled chairs sat in the middle of the floor, with counters ranged all round the edges. 
 A strange combination of plaster plaques were scattered on all the walls---a whole village of little Asian people at various tasks, and enough bright half-fruit to fill Carmen Miranda’s hatbox. 

Mrs. Duke seemed to live in a maelstrom of Primary Colors, with interchangeable tablecloths and wardrobe featuring garish fruit or umbrellas or palm trees.

The tiers of cafĂ© curtains featured dancing pots and pans, and her aprons were always wild rick-rack dreams from the Crayola Box of Eight.

She WAS a good cook, at least to my notion, for she made Spaghetti and MEAT BALLS, with some exotic whiff of unknown, pleasant herb, and set out little green shakers of Parmeesyun cheese.    Hers was quite a contrast to our plain ground beef, crumbled and browned with bell pepper and onion, and anointed with a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and a tiny can of Contadina.  Ours was mixed into the biggest spaghetti Ronco had to offer, cooked way past fork-twirling stage.
Aluminum  Wearever percolator on the white Amana range, Golden Wheat cups and saucers on the table---never mugs, for those endless cups of Maxwell House with whoever-dropped-in, and at least five ashtrays distributed around the kitchen, any three of which could be guaranteed to have a Pall Mall or Kool smouldering away, sending up eye-searing little signals of “Don’t forget MEEEE!”

She was a bright little twinkle of a woman, with sparkly jewelry and a bouncing page-boy.  The Dukes belonged to the Civic Club and the Garden Club, and she was always scurrying off to Wednesday AND Thursday Bridge, with a colorful purse on her arm and the smiling snap of Doublemint as she went.
So one Christmas when she came into the house preceded by Arpege,  perhaps it was the unaccustomed black dress that startled us to begin with---setting a tone of foreboding in its severity, like the one poor Miss Doris Day wore in MIDNIGHT LACE.   Her smart little black suede sandal-strap heels clicked across the floor as usual, as she set a cellophane-wrapped present down on our kitchen table.
“Y’all, I have a confession,” she said, in the tones of about-to-admit-adultery.  We looked at her, shocked into silence, as she went on.   “Y’all KNOW I make a whole lot of fruitcakes every year, and I ALWAYS bring Y’all one.   Well, this year, I just worked so hard, and bought up all that candied fruit all Fall, and went clear over to Greenville to pick up pecans at Sister’s house.   And it took me several days to pick ‘em out, and then chop the fruit and mix up all those cakes---well, I just hate to tell Y’all, but when I got through all that mixin’ and stirrin’ and gettin’ into the pans and the first batch in the oven---I looked down and saw I had a FINGERNAIL missin’ and I just like to DIED!”
All eyes swiveled to her hands, and sure enough, the finger-with-her-rings on her left hand had a little ole stumpy nub-nail where her usual bright red manicure flourished, like a shorter plank in a picket fence.   I think we all probably swallowed hard, and I don’t remember what-all was said or done before she left.  
But when she was gone, my Mother picked up the cake and said,  “Anybody feel like eating this cake now?   Why did she have to tell everybody she gave one to?  Only one of us would have been surprised.”
It was kinda like the old joke about the raffle where the prize was a mule, and it turned out the mule was dead.   But only the winner complained, and they gave him his dollar back.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


I'm linking to Beverly's PINK SATURDAY Breast Cancer Awareness Day..

I looked in  my rearview mirror yesterday, thinking, “Was that REALLY a rose still blooming?”   We parked and walked back to see, and just the surrounding drifts of leaves, the drab colors, the wavering wisps of all the other blooms---those just faded to background around the one bright pink rose,  rising above and standing unbowed against the elements and the winds.


And so I’m offering this little bit of lagniappe-amongst-the-leaves for all our Daughters, Granddaughters, Sisters, Mothers, Grandmothers, Aunts, Cousins, Nieces, Friends we know, Friends we’ve never met, and anyone else whose life is or might be touched in any way, until they find the cure. 


Not the last Rose of Summer, but a flag of Hope and Cheer and Encouragement.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


In all the much-rain and hail-laced plants and soggy leaves clinging to every inch of patio, yard, cars, roofs and shoes as you come in the house, and with my general indolence and can’t-get-going which cloudy gray dampened days engender, I just HAVE to let somebody know there’s something GRACIOUS going on around here.  Amongst several such niceties, a small jewel-of-a-moment from the past week:


The jars of home-canned marvels brought by our September guests Ben and Lil were absolutely beautiful.   And amongst them was a jar of Brown Turkey Figs (first I’d ever eaten, unless there were some amongst all the jars that we canned together LAST year).   These are stained-glass sunshine.
They were an absolutely divine---luscious and tender and dripping with that lovely syrup, and we ate them with a nice cheese plate, all the rich and heavy and sharp and musty cheeses enhanced by the bites of fig. 


There’s a velvety Gouda in there, a Morbier with its tell-tale little stripe of ash, a Stilton with dried cranberries, a St. Andre Triple, and a “cow’s milk” wedge, silky and sharp like I’d imagine a young Parmigianna, before the wheels are set to rest on the curing shelves.

The block in the middle is a little piece cut from an immense wheel of “fig paste studded with almonds” at the cheese shop.   That one was absolutely unnecessary, just sort of dark-flavored, with the tooth-yanking consistency of an old-fashioned Slo-Poke bar.


I resisted the urge to pick up a fig by its stem and drop it into my open mouth, with the juices running and the fig-flesh a soft mouthful. Instead,  I cut tiny wedges like cantaloupe smiles, lifting them with the point of my small knife, and they were a superb combination with all of the cheeses.


We haven’t yet opened any of the preserves---we’re saving them for a frosty night, when we’ll crank up the old Franklin to slide in the first pan of catheads of the season.   Those are special occasions all on their own.

Monday, October 22, 2012



Prettier in Pink than Andie Walsh.


We went tea-shopping (talk about narrowing down your purpose) this weekend, and as we strolled past a market, Chris said, “Look at those UGLY Pumpkins!   Who would buy one of those?”


I turned, expecting a display of one of the homelier branches of Hubbard Squash, and LO!!!   There were the most wonderful, smooth, cool pumpkins I’ve ever seen, like pastelly marble carved by a master artist.  I said, “OHHHH, they’re BEEEEUUUUtiful!   I’ve been wanting to get one of those for several years!”


As Chris reflected on my taste/eyesight/mental state, a young man emerged from the front door.  “Do you REALLY like these?   PLEASE take one!”


The card read “$4.99,” and I was ready to get one at most any reasonable price, but I didn’t choose the most gourd for my money.   I passed by the bigger ones, the shapelier ladies with the Camay complexions and the girlish stems, in favor of a smallish plump cutie peeping shyly from the far back corner.   I scooched past Chris, who was fishing for his wallet, and picked her up carefully with both hands, feeling the pleasant heft of her shape and the satiny-smooth skin and the absolute COOL of personality and temperature. 


The gracious young man said, “Oh, no---just take it with you; everybody wants the other ones for Jack-O-Lanterns.”


And so I carried her to the car with the gravity and care I use when carrying my one Waterford vase outdoors, or a very special teapot, or one of the Breakfast Frogs, clutched to my bosom to prevent escape onto that slate floor.

We belted her in, (I was hoping you wouldn't notice the magic wand in the picture), and we ARE going to take her out for a spin ---Caro's upstairs stitching little mouse waistcoats and we're setting our clocks for 11:55.

Saturday, October 20, 2012



It's lovely to awaken one morning, go upstairs to uncover the canary and give him breakfast, and then discover something so unexpected, so lovely and bright.

The Caro Elf had been at work, way in the night, making and hanging and distributing beautiful spots of BRIGHT all over the house.   We'd had a dried wreath on this mirror years ago, and  I'd not have  thought to hang one so large and imposing, but it's just amazing over the burgundy couch, with all the rosy lampshades and florals.

And another important part of Autumn:  the Bringing In---all the flowers put outside in shade or sun, to soak up all of Spring and Summer they can absorb.
Unfortunately, quite a few of these were quite injured by an immense hailstorm last month, attested by the forlorn, lacy leaves still untrimmed.
We went outside on the first sunny day and made S'Mores, with a little pan taken from inside the grill, filled with a few charcoal briquettes, and set on an old metal chair.   We toasted and torched and smushed and giggled, each to his own, scraping and sticking and getting all kinds of messy, and it took two trips into the house for wet washcloths to keep us from sticking to the furniture.

Sweetpea is a purist---she'll toast away, holding anybody's stick over the fire til it's like you like it, rotating carefully and getting the marshmallow just so, but she likes hers as Nature made them---two graham crackers with some squares of Hershey Bar and an un-toasted marshmallow---all left cold.

It's quite a feat to eat that, with crumbs and snaps resulting, but it's her way---she won't hear to having any of hers melted.

Chris is an Extra-Crunchy Jif kinda guy, with a nicely browned marshmallow, just gooey ENOUGH to ooze out with the chocolate as you squeeze the halves together.

Mine "Well Done," please---a veritable torch-on-a-stick, before blowing out and scraping that  scrumptious burnt-mallow ooze onto the cracker, with all the crunchy black bits of sugary WOW.
That long-remembered taste of the outdoors, the crisp of the air, the susssssh of leaves underfoot, the wavery stretched-out coat hanger dipping toward the coals, and that dark familiar crunch between your teeth of the charred crumbs---incomparable.

I've been known to pause in mid-assembly, to munch all the hot crust off the outside and toast the same marshmallow again.   S'mores are like steak---you like them like YOU like them.

And a wonderful, sunny Pink/Autumn Saturday to all!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


We had a lovely visit with our friends Ben and Lil in September.  We talked a LOT, cooked a little, went out to dinner twice and brunch once, and talked even more.       They usually arrive in August for the State Fair, but this year they were later, heading for points West and then their Winter home in Texas.   Last I heard, when a big box arrived for Sweetpea on Tuesday, they were still in New Mexico, enjoying the sights and cuisine.
They are of the  Never Arrive Empty-Handed persuasion, and this time, it was a whole satchelful of home-made preserves---all from trees and brambles in their gardens---some of the golden honey from their hives, and even a cake-in-a-jar (large jar in the foreground holds a lemon-poppyseed cake, sealed at the moment the jar came from the oven---a new thing to me).
Above trove includes White Fig Preserves, Blackberry Preserves, Golden Raspberry Preserves, Blueberry Jam, Honey, Cake, and a jar of the Preserved Turkey Figs.   We'd had a little canning session last year on their visit, and I must say---pupils have FAR surpassed teacher on this one. 
And I could certainly use a photography-and-posting course, as well.   These pictures have flipped more times than an Ole Miss Cheerleader, and STILL I cannot get them right. 
Honey, Golden Raspberry, Preserved Turkey Figs.

Ben and Lil must have about twelve green thumbs between them, and their energy and talents in the kitchen are amazing.    The day last year that we three got into my kitchen and turned out Five loaves of Zucchini-Blueberry-Pecan bread and canned I-don't-know-how-many jars of Fig Preserves, and STILL made it to a late lunch WAY across the state and an afternoon at a Flea Market (edited to add I'd forgotten that we also came home and canned an equal number of Preserved Figs that evening) was one to remember.

We've already sampled several of these delicious goodies, as WELL AS a bag of their Home-Candied Figs which rival any confiture in Paris.   These wonderful sweeties will brighten the Winter mornings, and many a Cathead Biscuit will sing their praise.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


I'm determined to get some FALL into this house, folks. There's a surge of energy coming from that great burst of sunshine down the stairs, the air says AUTUMN, and if I don't get some wreaths on the doors and some pumpkins scattered around---well, I just don't know WHAT.


But first I have to dust all the ceilings and under the beds---it's the LAW. I'm wearing a big ole poufy bakery HAIRNET, People!


So, Whilst I huff and swiffer and vacuum in preparation to the REAL fun---I'm posting a re-run of my Southern take on decorating, with the often-asked Gussy vs. Hussy difference:


There’s a difference in the South between Gussied Up and Hussied Up---the pronunciation, for one thing. Gussied is pronounced with the USSS as it’s spelled---a crisp ssss through the teeth, and most always meaning nice things. The declaration and question, "Why, you're sure gussied up today---where you goin'?" can almost always be taken only as a compliment on appearance and taste.

On the other hand, Hussied takes on a HUZZZZZ sound, with a little bit of disdain in the hum of the zzzzzz’s. As in “Why that ole HUZZZZY!!! Who does she think she IZZZZZ?”

The key is that you can Gussy up a house, a room, a dress, a tabletop, a package or a window treatment or a hat, but almost the only thing you can call “hussied up” is a person---female persons, at that.

Well, maybe that time Bugs Bunny wore the lipstick, but that’s not a good example, I guess.

Gussying is all in the outlook, I think---you add a little extra touch here, a coat of paint there, a new shade of nail polish or a different centerpiece, and there you have it---gussied. A lush blossom tucked behind an ear, purse-shoes-belt to match, a fresh white pique collar on a plain navy dress, the tilt of an absolutely useless wisp of whimsy passing for a cocktail hat---those fall into the gussy category.

As do lace on tiny socks above shiny black Mary Janes, ribbons on ponytails, white gloves in Summer, pearls with a sweater set, a flirty glimpse of red silk slip in the hem-slit of a demure dress, (which can all-too-easily fall into the Hussy category, depending on dress, slip, and degree of flash). There’s also the extra-fancy trimmings to a wardrobe---the colorful inserts on a pocket, a special set of buttons for placket and sleeves, an elaborate stitching technique which sets the garment apart, a special furl of ribbon or paper to make a gift almost too beautiful to unwrap.

Gussying in a room could include a punch of pillows, a paint color, a mural or bit of trompe l’oeil, some specially-draped and tasseled curtains, a little tableau atop a table, a mantel, a shelf. We all love a special touch, whether our own, in a magazine, in a house in which we feel the warmth of things well-loved.

But Hussied Up, now---that’s a different subject entirely, mostly calling for a state of BEING, for the carriage and attitude count for a great percentage of the aura. The extra touches are there, the attention to detail may be present, the care in preparation and presentation undeniable, but the effect is just TOO-TOO. Too-tight or too bright or too-too is just too much---they run over into “Did you SEE what she was wearing?” on past, “Too much sugar for a dime,” into “Ten pounds of sugar in a five-pound sack,” and the capstone: “Her Mama would just DIE!”

My girlfriends and I used to tease each other about being Hussied Up when we would go out together---a little extra care with the lipstick, an appointment for a hairdo that afternoon, an outfit just bought and pressed Just SO, but those were just nice ladies getting spruced up.

REAL Hussying is either a gift or a curse---a flair for a dramatic look, with a special style that gets you noticed AND talked about, but in an envious or admiring way
, though your admirers may be as much detractors as any.

Or the curse of not having The Sense God Gave a Goose in the way you present your person---a painted-on outfit cut down TO THERE, with tottery heels, big hair and too much jewelry AND perfume just ain’t the way you want to go through life. It gets you noticed, all right, but it also gets you Looked At Funny and Laughed At, besides.

Our Aunt Cady wore odd little outfits, with a bit too much powder and lipstick, and Toujours Moi preceded her into the house. She wore TOO MUCH STUFF, too many GeeGaws, too much tarnished or plastic bits and pieces with gappy places where the crumbs of sparkly glass had fallen from the settings. She was like the society woman of whom it was rumored that she just stood in the middle of the room and her maid flung every knick-knack in her jewelry box at her. More was MORE.

On up into the Seventies, her stockings had seams, and there were always flocked butterflies or embroidered flowers scattered up her calves. In addition to all the above, her ensemble for my Grandpa's funeral included a shoulder-strap purse big as a saddlebag, in a big ole Laura Ashley-type floral chintz if I remember right, and slapped on it midways like a Homecoming Corsage was the final touch: A huge red paper-satin bow, one of those sticky-back ones sold by the dozen at Fred's for Christmas packages.

But she was sweet and she was OURS; we tittered a bit in secret, but we would no more have hurt her feelings over her over-the-top effect than we’d fly. She was a nice lady, and no matter what she wore, the SELF of her could never have gone past extreme Gussied Up into Hussydom.


And therein lies the difference.