Tuesday, July 30, 2013


We’re coming up on Post #900 in a few days, and that, coupled with the lagniappe/serendipity of having found some relatives I’ve never met, and having such a nice time swapping stories and connections with those lovely people, I’ve been thinking lots about long-ago times and family and all the chance and circumstance that make us the WE that we are. 



In the one picture I have of Mammaw’s side of the family, my Great-Grandmother Roma is a solemn-faced woman, wrinkle-browed and worn by work and sorrow and the total responsibility of ten children born and a husband buried by the time she was thirty-five.


She's scarcely forty in the picture, I'd think, for the little girl down by her knees was six months old when GG was widowed.  She probably smelled of rub-board lye clothes and honest field sweat and a chicken-pot boiling, because you had to make one feed eleven by then.


She and Great-Grandpa (who did not live long enough to be a Grandfather) had had the felicity of having a full chicken-house as inheritance when they married, from a great wagon-full of chicks donated by family and community.  

It was the one and only Chicken-Shower I’ve ever heard of in the history of matrimony, but it really makes a frugal kind of sense. 

  Everybody had a flock of some kind---Reds and Domineckers and other barnyard breeds, and any chicken that hatched was a bonus one way or the other.  So when GG Roma and GG Earnest married, they were showered with a pot or pan or two, maybe a pair of homemade pillowslips from one of the older sisters, and a nice flock of chickens.



In the first couple of years, GG Roma would fry TWO on Sundays, for there was the go-home-with-you-from-church crowd of family, and even on their Sundays to themselves, they killed and cooked two, for Mammaw said, ”They had a-plenty then, and my Mama always said ONE chicken is just not enough for two people and some leftover for dinner next week while we’re in the field.”   Mammaw’s philosophy echoed that:  Why fry twice, when you can do a lot at one time.


That idea had its influence over our own family as I grew up, for though Mother might gingerly fry a chicken once in a blue moon, having to start off Sunday for so many years in such a gruesome manner as killing and cleaning those chickens put her off eating it for life.   Oddly, the liver and gizzard were sacrosanct, reserved just for her (far removed from all the pluck and singe, I suppose), and she readily bought and cooked whole packages of those.


Mammaw always had a chickenhouse right there in their backyard, along with a fruit-house, an immense rose garden, a twice-as-big vegetable garden, and that little moon-doored necessary, and for many years they had a cow which I “walked” to and from the town pasture, from when I was about four.   Boss would see her friends already out there in the grass, grazing and gossiping, and she'd take off by herself while my little Buster Browns would pelt along in the dust alongside, trying to beat her to the gate.  


Years later, when in Mammaw's own words, she was "gettin' on up there," the flock were layers only, but by then, I’d named them, and so rendered amnesty to the whole stupid, cackly, feckless bunch.  Had it not been for those immense, richly brown “yeller yawked” eggs which were the linchpin of those legendary Pineapple Cakes, she’d probably have swapped the lot for a card of buttons.

Good Luck in a skillet

And not until Daddy built Mammaw and Grandpa a new house in 1958, did they get rid of the few remaining stragglers descended from that one original wedding-flock.   She’d carried a few of the old bunch with her from her Mama’s yard to their own little house when she and Grandpa married, and could always point out which two or three were great-great-grand-chickens from the droves ranging round the Old Home-Place.


We never did have the Family Manor or the Family Silver, but how many people can say they grew up eating chickens and eggs from the Family Flock established way yonder back in the 1850s.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Bobbie Helen Shumake has never been one of the “pretty” girls.   She was always rather plain, except for her amber eyes, which  shine like honey-held-up-to-the-sun, and her palest-of-pink/blonde hair with a natural sort of glimmer to it, tamed into a big curly pile on the back of her head. 
         She’s always been lanky and wiry, with long slim boy’s legs and arms corded as those workout-women who count out edamame one by one.    She was the best athlete in all the school, climbing that rope in the gym faster than any boy, and never touching it with feet or legs.   Once, when the Lady Globetrotters came for a charity game in Expedia, her coach-who-knew-their-coach got them to let her play in the game, and she was wonderful---scoring several times, and clowning a bit, just as the pros did. 


She’d married a really nice Bubba of a guy and their four boys were exactly like their Mama---long and lean and living for every sport, every season.  

And the most faithful fan and loudest-shouting supporter at every game, no matter the sport, was Bobbie Helen.  She and Harold were tailgaters, water-carriers, team-parents, and rode late into the night on more preposterone-filled buses than any other couple in any school.   To the whole town, they seemed to live their lives in a state of elbows-and-pranks and rollicking hilarity--- bemusing most, and providing many a tale of their crazy doings around the county.


Long into parenthood, she was still known for her antics and sense of humor, and the time she got tired of wearing that dang brassiere right in the middle of an Elvis concert, right there in the front-row-balcony of the Memphis Coliseum---that grew into a legend that almost, but not quite, eclipsed the TV appearance of Mac MacIntire, who drunkenly wagered his pants at an Ole Miss Game that time, and whose wide flat behind was captured full-screen by ABC, just as he left the stadium in blazer, tie, and boxers.


When the Thirty-Fifth Class Reunion was coming up, Bobbie Helen approached it with more trepidation than most---she knew all those pretty women would be there---those Homecoming Queens and those Miss This and Miss That, and even with just her hometown friends, she thought she was starting out behind, to begin with.   All those laugh lines from all that joking around for so many years were evident around her eyes, and since she laughed at most everything in life, mostly at herself and her foolishness, she decided to skip the Avon Lady and all the little bottles of Youth This and Renew That at Paynes’ Drugstore.


   She thought this was serious enough to just take a splurge, and go to Memphis for the Big Guns:   Merle Norman.    She didn’t want just a wrinkle-remover---she wanted a Wrinkle-Corrector, one of those clear, instant-apply things that simply smoothed away the years in one swift application. 


She bought the best they had, and tried it out for a few days beforehand, and dad-gum if she DIDN’T look younger.   She could tell the difference right off.    And when she put on a little base and powder, well, she looked really nice.    She’d always been confident of her figure and knew she looked good in her smoky-green silk dress with her hair up, so on the evening of the party, she applied the stuff as directed and stepped out, right pleased with her appearance.  


And if she’d left it at that, she’d have been a nicely-maturing lady, with glowing skin and beautiful eyes and an infectious smile.   But when both Geneva Grace Crossland-Holloman and Karla Kay Fullilove Morgan walked in at the same time, with their three-hundred-dollar haircuts and their handsome husbands-from-off, Bobbie Helen reached into her purse for the Youth Stuff and rubbed a little bit more around her eyes.   


Then another few women chattered their way into the room, and she felt the need to renew the application just a teense more.   She dabbed dots of the stuff on her face and smeared it surreptitiously around every so often.   And then, after sipping a Mai Tai or two, she grew less secretive with her efforts, snapping open the little bottle of viscous glue and squirting a bit on her fingers before swiping it around her eyes and down the small grooved parentheses flanking her lips.


As the evening grew later and the chatter more lively, the band even louder, the Mai Tais flowing and the smoke hovering like bayou mist, she grew unheeding of her motions, as she gave a big squeeze of the gel into her palm and massaged all around her face with it, as unconsciously as if she were sitting at her vanity with the Pond's, talking to Hairl over her shoulder.  


Her night’s worth of effort had the effect of leaving her countenance at the end of the party quite shiny and rigid, resembling one of those bank robbers in the clear plastic masks, rendered grim slick statues except for the eerie bit of life in their eyes. 


At the Swirl-a-Curl the next week, Bobbie Helen told the story on herself, laughing fit to bust.


“And when we got home, I was all the way in there hangin’ up my dress when I caught a glimpse in the mirror, and I said, ’My-y LAWERD!  Hairl!!  Why ditten you TELLL me?’

“And Hairl says,  ‘But BAY-by,  it come on suh GRADUAL!’”


Tuesday, July 16, 2013


In my Mother's kitchen were four drawers that I especially remember:   The lower, deep one which held the long accumulation of neatly-folded grocery bags, used for lots of things.    Fried chicken just tasted better after a good bag-shake in the seasoned flour, before the golden-sizzle in the black skillet.    And another bag just jumped onto the platter for draining-duty, as well---even the most kitchen-proud cooks set out that paper-lined dish, with its translucent grease-stains, right there on the Sunday Dinner table, as big as you please.

That good sturdy brown paper was handy for cutting small sections of patterns, such as sleeves or yokes, for kid-crafts of all kinds, from kites to paper dolls, and even just two eye-holes clipped with a quick nip of the scissors, well, that kind of mask/head dress would serve for all sorts of flights of the imagination.

(The year the whole town discovered luminaria, weighted with everything from rocks to sand to cat-litter, is another story).

The deep middle drawer with the neatly-folded dishcloths was a luxurious thing to me---I kept one of my own, as well, and the year of the ice storm, when we'd taken in a family of four for more than a week, with no running water and having to take turns driving over to the neighbors to shower, the sight of Daddy at my door with several bags of milk and eggs and board games and an enormous bag of those fluffy white dish towels---I cannot tell you.   I'd just leave the flurry of the company and cooking and all those beds, and just go open the drawer and gaze in at all those orderly folds, and be soothed.

Then there was Mother's Apron Drawer, with all the handiwork and rickrack and fancy pockets and patterns.    I never did wear aprons much myself (though I do every day now, but not those or that kind---mine are the plain old serviceable bib kind, three in a pack, from the "restaurant" aisles of Sam's).   Plus, for special, a couple of works-of-art ones, hand-made by my friend Maggie.

When Daddy called us all back the year after Mother died, to come claim whatever we wanted from the house, I made a bee-line for the Apron Drawer and the Recipe Drawer, upended them both into boxes, and headed right for the truck.  

One of the benefits of the store-room cleaning last year was the unearthing of the "recipe box."  I knew it was in there, right over  there somewhere in front of the big shelves of jams and jellies, and beneath the cases of paper towels and the WalMart tubs of seasonal clothes.   I lifted a box, felt the not-too-substantial heft (a good part of that all those TASTE OF HOME magazines), and had a little ping of anticipation.   When I ran the knife through the strips of crackly yellowed tape and lifted the lid, there was THIS, right on top:

and I knew I'd found treasure.

Everybody seemed to have one of these, right along with the Avocado or Harvest Gold appliances (those  above are our OWN HG countertops in Caro's 60s kitchen upstairs).   This snazzy little red polyester number covered my Mother's bottle of Palmolive, standing sentry at the sink for probably twenty years.

The picture makes me smile, for it’s a fairly good approximation of me, standing there round and comfy in that little apron at the sink, and if you squint your eyes just right, you may see the semblance of a browny-gray bun atop the little head.

The recipes, I'll deal with in times to come, with reminiscences and making-for-old-times'-sake (I just typo-ed sake into CAKE---apt, for I was hoping for ONE particular recipe.   I thought I'd never, ever forget how to make that pink-marbled pound cake I made practically every Saturday of my teens, but it's flitted far away into Time).   I've already made a few of the old favorites, old cravings for just that one taste.    The Squash Pickles were one of the very first made, and they were a nice surprise for the children last Christmas.

The familiar card, in Mother's back-slant, born-left-handed, made-to-learn-to-write-with-the-"right"-hand, dagnabbit-did-what-she-pleased-when-she-got-grown writing, with the bonus of being able to use either quite well:

Nice memory, and a nice addition to our Christmas table, just because.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Amongst all the Rural Myths of the South---Cat on the Table, Bobcat in a Bag, Going to See Margie---one seems to be all too true---Trash Can Punch.
I'd always heard of it, but had had neither opportunity nor inclination to try the vigorous stuff.   It seemed the province of Frat Houses or Tractor Pulls or REALLY off-the-chart weddings, and even if (not confirming, you understand) I were a habitué of any of  the above, I doubt I'd have partaken.    As my Mother said one patio lunch when I'd served on Melmac and was pouring the tea into festive plastic tumblers, "I just don't think I can drink anything out of a little teensy GARBAGE CAN."
Besides, I'm goofy enough sober.
And therein, apparently, lies the charm.    You just get a big ole can and throw in a lot of fruit and juice  with enough ice for a Dangerous Catch run, pour in copious amounts of an unfortunate rocket-fuel booze called EverClear, and then you drink it.   Some folks actually use a trash-can LINER (either for authenticity, which I'm all for, despite what must make the finished product taste at least a LITTLE like Enron effluvium, or for sanitary purposes when the probity of the container is questionable---which I simply refuse to think about).
And some hearty imbibers go for the simple life---straight into the Coleman, carry, cool and quaff---as big as you please.

Once upon a time in our far-ago days, Caro was asked to help her work  supervisor cater a home wedding reception (the supervisor's home, and her daughter was the bride).   The young lady was marrying a nice young sailor at the Pensacola Base Chapel, and the reception was to be on the beach-front slope down from the home.
Since Chris and I were to be out of town that Thanksgiving weekend, Caro was pretty much on her own (take that literally---she arrived at the house on Friday after work, to find that none of the grocery shopping had been done, so Caro "could pick out just the right ones."  
 She was expecting an all-night cooking stint, but it didn't cross her mind that she'd have to venture out into a strange city to an open-all-night-supermarket before starting in the kitchen.   Another story, but quite a presage of things to come).
The lady of the house and the groom DID disappear in the pickup to go get the groceries, and Caro busied herself with the decorating and the quilts for the lawn and the getting-readies that she could do alone.
So it was clean clean clean the kitchen and dining table, get the dishes out of the sink and clean that, and generally ready the house for party preparation.     Most of this tale save the ending is lost in the merciful mists of Time, but just say it was one of those "it'll just be a few people---would you please help me with a few things," which turned into  work quietly all night because everybody else in the house is asleep.
After many hours, MOB and Groom drove up with the back of that truck loaded with a can that would hold mead for a Viking wake, or even the guest of honor---corpse, pyre and boat.    The size and unwieldy shape and heft of the thing were not the major drawback.
It was one of those huge ole flappy-top ones, like you dump your cup into as you walk into a store.  And not just LIKE.   WAS.  
They'd been so late getting back to WalMart to buy a can,  it was closed.  But undeterred, and thinking of those fifty thirsty sailors of the morrow, they simply dragged the bag of trash out of the one on the sidewalk, left it propped against the door,  and loaded 'er up.

Friday, July 5, 2013


Every June, we look forward to a patio breakfast celebrating our dear neighbor Honey’s birthday.   She likes strawberries more than anyone I know, and so we take advantage of the perfection of the berries and enjoy a little morning-party with her.


The table, in the leaf-dapples of the early sunshine.  The old pink wisteria tablecloth is one of my favorites, and the silver, napkins, coffeepot and most of the serving dishes are from Goodwill---I especially love the plates---a set of eight in that wonderful pink glass.


Honey is originally from Germany, a real War Bride, and she’s just about the best neighbor you could imagine. She’s kind and smart and always so happy to see us, and we all treasure our times together.


Sweetpea will hear her in the yard and shout, “Come on OVER!” and we can make the simplest moment into special---Honey will sit down to doll-tea on a cardboard box if that’s what you’re serving.


We usually share bread and cheese and fruit and good strong coffee together on her birthday


There were big old fat strawberries, bread and butter, and a dish of southern Paminna Cheese with crackers.


She and Caro are our cheese aficionados, for they both like any and all---for this picture, the brie and bleu and the St. Andre are on the platter with the grapes and cherries and a dish of Caro’s homemade apricot-pineapple conserve, and the Limburger is WAY over yonder on another little table.


Bread and butter and a luscious spoonful of Lil and Ben’s wonderful Blueberry Preserves.


One of the reasons we bought this house a long time ago was this lovely neighbor who came smiling out of her gate to welcome us each time we came back to take another look at the house.   We fence-chatted about the neighborhood, the children who had grown up here beside her own, the parks and tree-lined streets and the close amenities (At the time, a small strip-mall within stepping-distance boasted a wonderful chain grocery store, a drugstore, a small-town-type hardware store, a beauty shop, a barber shop, a wash-a-teria, a video rental and a Chinese restaurant---even snowed in, we could get along almost forever without cranking up the car).


Some of those little necessaries have faded now, by economy and progress, but we still have our dear neighbor, right next door.


And I see I’m just in time to link in to BEVERLY’S Pink Saturday.

Thursday, July 4, 2013



I’m of a mind that the sidewalk down our blocks becomes once a year the Brigadoon enclave of all the extant folding-aluminum-lawn-chairs-with-woven-strap-seats.   Those backyard and beach mavens of the past are all stored somewhere special for the rest of the year, I think, those symbols of cookouts and cocktails and coolers of beer, all silent and taking their ease in the dusty dark like dollar-store warehouses of Las Vegas neon or Mardi Gras Krewe.


Folks line up at ten, I imagine, for when we arrive at five-til-time, they’re all established, these partakers of patriotism and local flavor:  chairs and umbrellas and coolers and flags, with children in colors with flags on their clothes, their hats, speared through ponytails and beltloops, children in costumes, children in tiny Tigger and Barney and Tinkerbell seats of their own, awaiting the mystical Rainfall of Tootsie Rolls, and the scent of Coppertone and cigarettes wafts on the breeze. 



The approaching thrum of powerful engines heralds the motorcycle brigade---a dozen strong, and each the ideal of Protect and Serve, these muscular, fit Ken-men in badges with their Police Poster perfection.   They turn and swoop and figure-eight in a ballet of bikes, with the noise and the smoke but a part of their glamour and power.


Flags and floats and walkers in slogan-T’s, honoring or hawking their group or church or candidate, and every red convertible not downtown eases by, with its colorful banner and a smiling candidate or queen-of-something waving at the crowd. 
    Bands herald their own arrival, with the cadence and the thoom of drums stirring the heartbeat from two blocks back, while the two vintage John Deeres and four Allis Chalmers make their elephant-walk past.



And the proud, strong soldiers---we’ve seen them go from butternut to khaki to deep olive to green camo to brown-and-tan and back to the almost butternut/beige, with their boots morphing from spit-shined black to paler-than-buckskin suede.   But the faces---those faces of strength and courage---they never change, and our hearts kvell at just the thought of them.



The bands, unlike this blessedly unseasonal day today, are gleaming with the shine of brass and braid, and faces almost always glistening with trickles of sweat beneath their shakos and baseball caps.   I cannot imagine a parade without sweat---it’s like the life-energy of all that hustle and stomp and breath-it-takes-to-play-five-songs-while-marching-twelve-blocks in July.



I can see the faces, hear the music, feel my heart stirred by the day and the beat---all that martial rhythm in the sense-memory harking to battlefields ago.   The old Fort Cannon, timed perfectly with the 1812, gives a chilling déjà vu to Lexington and Bunker Hill, Merrimac and Monitor and Maine, to Gettysburg and Vicksburg and all the other places-of-peril in which brave soldiers perished or persevered.  Just that sound---that deep deadly boom which rattles our windows from a mile away on occasion---that’s an eternal memory on this remembering day.   



I sit out here in the calm cool shade of the patio, coffee in hand and a wall at my back, on this most-Un-July day, with the echoes and the blasts and the thrums and cannon booms, and fireworks for blocks around punctuating this two-hundred-and-thirty-seventh anniversary.  My reflections swirl the images like water---the skies and the earth and the smoke and the red-white-and-blue, and all the sounds whirling in a long-ago memory of reveille and charge and Taps.



From my way-through-the trees remove, all the experience filters through as a brave pentimento on the page, as surreal as glimpses of red coats through the trees of an April-morning fog, and it’s real enough, for this day.

It’s generations, a handshake, a passing of a torch.  And I’ve heart-seen it one more time.


No Sweat.