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Today I witnessed history.flag

On this misty, gray morning, I stood outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham and watched a bright rainbow flag wave as Alabama became the 37th state to allow same-sex marriages. I watched Jefferson County Probate judges uphold the law and defy bigotry, hate, and fear. I saw families embrace, relieved and joyful that they are now afforded equal protection under the law.

Today I witnessed history.

I stood in the crowd, jostled about as the first couple emerged and were enveloped by supporters, their banners protecting the two women from agitators, zealots, and proselytizers brandishing crosses and spewing vile words. I watched while supporters and protesters sang “Jesus Loves Me,” their voices blending together in a loud chorus, their ideologies like oil and water. I saw that both groups believed those words to be true.

Today I witnessed history.

I stood on the grass in Linn Park and watched two women promise to love, honor, and cherish each other forever and ever, Amen. I watched them choke back happy tears and remembered how my husband and I were married at this same courthouse. I saw that I had taken for granted how easy it was for me to marry the person I love.

Today I witnessed history.

I stood among gay and straight, black and white, men and women, all gathered together to celebrate the dawn of a new era in Alabama. I watched the old guard of conservatism give way to a new regime of tolerance and acceptance. I saw the dark clouds part and the sun shine through.

Today I witnessed history.

Orange_juiceOrange juice.

Oh, how those 2 words haunted me.

Orange juice. Orange juice. Orange juice.

Sounds just like Audrey. At least according to Ronnie. Scrawny, freckled, buck-toothed Ronnie — my fourth grade nemesis.

Once he made this brilliant connection, that’s all he called me. Over and over again in his singsongy, squeaky voice. I hated the nickname. And I hated Ronnie.

All through the fall he doggedly continued to call me by his chosen moniker. In the classroom. At the buses. On the playground.

“Red rover, red rover,
Send Orange Juice right over!”

The worst part? You have to run right over. Everyone knows who Orange Juice is so it’s not like you can stay in the line quizzically looking around.

Who is this “Orange Juice” to whom they refer? Me? Certainly not.

I wanted to run right over and knock Ronnie’s protruding front teeth down his throat, but all I could do was hurl myself through the clasped hands, tumbling past their grins. The faster I got back in line, the faster they would forget. Send somebody else on over.

I hoped that the long Christmas break would cloud Ronnie’s memory. Maybe distracted by toys, and candy, and Santa Claus, he would forget all about me. I was wrong. On the very first day back, even before the Pledge of Allegiance, I heard “Heeeeyyyy, Orrrr-aaaannngggeee Joooooossssss!”

I shot him my stoniest, nine-year-old glare.

Whither, you moron, whither under my icy stare.

Ronnie didn’t whither. In fact, my increasing exasperation only added to his delight. “Whatcha mad about, Orrrr-aaaannngggeee Joooooossssss?”

January turned to February, and the class Valentine’s Day party was coming up. We were going to have cupcakes and Kool-aid. The teacher instructed us to bring Valentines to exchange. “Remember, bring one for everyone,” Mrs. Turner said.

Everyone? Even my arch enemy? Even…him!?

The night before the party, I sat at the dining table with my box of paper Valentines. Mentally, I went down each row in the class addressing each little envelope. Pamela. Alice. Amanda. David. Darrell. Stanley. Rachel. Mark.

Ronnie.

Would he know if I spit in his envelope?

The next day, I got to school with my little sack of Valentines. The classroom was decorated with construction paper hearts and the reading table held the cupcakes and Kool-aid. Mama came to the school for the party along with some of the other mothers, and when everyone had assembled, Mrs. Turner said “Alright, children, you may get up to trade your Valentines!”

We began to file around the room, putting a little card on every desk.

“Where’s my Valentine, Orrrr-aaaannngggeee Joooooossssss?”

Right here! I thought, as I reared back and kicked Ronnie as hard as I could square in the shin.

And here! And here! And here!

I kicked him until he crawled under the table of cupcakes to get away. I kicked him as the rest of the class stood in stunned silence. I kicked him for every time he had called me that awful name.

I kicked him until Mama dragged me away.

Mrs. Turner made me sit in the corner for the rest of the party. I didn’t get a cupcake. I didn’t get any Kool-aid. I didn’t care.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Ronnie, I thought with a smile. Love, Orange Juice.

The pearl handle pocket knife.

Once Christmas long ago Granny gave Baw a pearl handle pocket knife. A gentleman’s knife, it was a fine little thing, a knife you could take to church. No, it’s wasn’t any ordinary everyday knife to scrape the dirt from under one’s nails or sharpen a pencil. It was fancy, like a piece of jewelry you could carry in your pocket.

Somehow, though, in all the Christmas whirlwind of tissue, colored paper, and ribbon, the pearl handle pocket knife was lost. Baw was crestfallen. Despondent. A search was launched. Had it been thrown away with the trash!? The knife was never to be found, and we never knew what happened to it.

And so the pearl handle pocket knife became part of family lore.

Every Christmas since, when someone receives a tiny treasure, as soon as the teensy gift has been opened and exclaimed upon, someone will say, “Put it away! Don’t let it be like the pearl handle pocket knife!” You can count on it. Every year.

This Christmas, the presents had all been opened, the pearl handle pocket knife invoked, and all the trash gathered and taken out to the dumpster. As we were basking in the holiday glow and contemplating a preprandial libation, it occurred to me that I had not seen Mama open one of my gifts to her — her main gift — a string of quartz, pearl, and turquoise beads. Had I wrapped it? Where was it? Surely she had gotten it. Surely.

I tried to be sly.

“So, Mama, did you open all of your presents?”

“I think I did,” she said.

“Did you have one from me? Maybe a smaller gift wrapped with a bigger one?”

“I got the socks you gave me,” she said.

By this time I had attracted the attention of Daddy, Husband, and Brother.

“Was there anything else in the sock bag?”

“Well I don’t know,” she says. “The bag has been thrown away.”

Thrown away. Thrown away? Just like the pearl handle pocket knife!

We dashed downstairs and out into the alley where the dumpsters stand. To our relief, our bags of trash were still close to the top. By perching on the retaining wall and leaning most of my upper body into the belly of the beast, I was able to reach our garbage bags and drag them out past the dinner remnants, commode parts, and other refuse. Frantically flinging wrapping paper right and left, and attracting more than one curious look from passers by, I managed to find the missing gift bag.

And the beads were still inside, waiting to be unwrapped. Waiting for Mama. Found, unlike the pearl handle pocket knife.

Found!

Found!

What else did we find amongst all that trash? A happy ending! So next year as we unwrap our gifts in a flurry of colored paper, ribbon, and tissue, instead of worrying about what may be lost forever, we can remember what was found, and laugh as we recount a new piece of family lore — the tale of how we fished a string of beads out of the dumpster on Christmas day.

16 hours.

That’s how long I was in my mother’s home for a Thanksgiving visit before I found myself with not one but two different kinds of product in my hair.

My limp, straight, ornery hair has been a source of consternation to my mother my whole life, and one day, by God, she will conquer it and give me the bouncin’ and behavin’ blonde locks a self-respecting Southern gal is supposed to have. It started with my first permanent wave around the age of six. Mama managed to get one picture of me with a halo of golden curls. Then it went straight again. Defiantly straight.

Over the years we have tried pin curls, pink sponge rollers, hot rollers, curling irons, back combing, teasing, rats (the kind for hair fixin’ not for killin’), professionals with chemicals, a thing called a hot comb, the dreaded bonnet hair dryer, crimping, those spongy twisty sticks, and sheer will (and a whole lot of Aqua Net) to make my hair big. And it will get big, gloriously big…for a little while. Then it’s stubborn straightness takes over making it point like an arrow to the ground.

An arrow bursting Mama’s big hair bubble.

But my mother will not accept defeat. And this Thanksgiving I was on her turf. With the turkey in the oven, appliances of hair torture at the ready, and time on our hands, it was time to try again.

That’s when the product came out. Applied only to the roots, mind you. Lifting the hair. You must lift the hair. Lift it.

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Then came the heat. If you look closely you’ll see that my right ear is about to be burnt slap off my head. There is pain in beauty, y’all, and vicey versey. Deep, I know. You’ve got to invoke a little Southern Zen to endure the beautification process. Or drink. But we’ll get to that.

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Next was a different kind of heat. The pulling, tangling kind.

IMG_4120

Then rollers. Lots of rollers. Unlike our hot rollers of yore, these Velcro thingies actually manage to grip the strands and bend them into submission. Plus they stick to your head so there’s no need to gouge those pin things into your scalp to get them to stay. Progress.

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Then I had to go let it set for a while. That’s what the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is for. And mimosas. You need something, for pity’s sake, to make you forget how your ear stings and remember that you are just a hair away from real beauty — big hair beauty.

Giddy with anticipation, and certainly not the aforementioned mimosa, we unroll our way to the big reveal. Will it curl? Will it at least wave? Will all this time and effort and product and heat and Velcro be for naught?

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Voila! Big hair for me. Well sorta. Comparatively.

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Now I know my hair will not rival Farrah’s famed mane, but it is bigger than it normally is. Really. Downright puffy, I’d say. And it lasted. All day. Even in the South Alabama humidity.

Oh, sweet victory! Thank you, Mama.

Furcula. That is the funny-sounding, official name of what we commonly refer to as a wishbone. It means “little fork” in Latin. Furcula.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

During this season of giving thanks, it is traditional for two people to rend this little bone from the turkey carcass and, in a sometimes spirited contest of hand strength and cunning, snatch it apart. The person who winds up with the biggest half gets to make a wish…over part of a dead bird bone. Fun! Thank the Romans. They started it.

We spend a great deal of time every November waxing poetic over all the many things we are thankful for. I can’t help but think how unfair it is to only get one wish, and only then if you manage to wrestle half a bird bone from your dinner guest. That’s why this year, I’m making a list of my wishes now — furcula or no furcula.

  1. I wish for a winter with no snow even though I already have my boots, blanket, and emergency water in the trunk, just in case.
  2. I wish the Clinique lady would quit referring to my cute freckles as “sun damage.”
  3. I wish I could somehow, miraculously run a mile without falling over gasping for breath and nearly dead, even though I don’t really care enough to work up to it.
  4. I wish I did care enough.
  5. I wish that everyone currently living in these United States would remember that their ancestors, whether way back or up close, all came here from somewhere else, with the exception, naturally, of true Native Americans.
  6. I wish it was not frowned upon to have a martini (or two) at lunch, on a Thursday.
  7. I wish for the use of down-home, God-given, come-in-out-of-the-rain common sense by the general populace.
  8. I wish every child could write, paint, dance, sing, and dream with absolute freedom from judgment.
  9. I wish I could sleep with the closet door open.
  10. I wish I could rock a wild chapeau with feathers…and sequins…and velvet trim…and maybe a short veil.
  11. I wish I could remember more.
  12. I wish I could forget some.
  13. I wish I wasn’t afraid to make pie crust from scratch.
  14. I wish that the word “bossy” would be replaced with “goal-oriented” or “leader” or just plain “boss.”
  15. I wish I could carry a tune. My family wishes I didn’t like to sing so much.
  16. I wish beets didn’t taste like dirt because they are so dang good for you.
  17. I wish fried foods didn’t taste so good because they are so dang bad for you.
  18. I wish that people who call themselves Christians yet continue to perpetrate hate would remember the words to “Jesus Loves the Little Children” and think long and hard about what they really mean.
  19. I wish that I still had my Big Wheel and that I could ride it down the sidewalk in my neighborhood.

My final wish? Well, it’s for you.

  1. I wish all of you a safe, happy, healthy Thanksgiving and that all of your wishes come true.

Recently I read an article by John T. Edge, the venerable Southern food writer and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, in which he referenced his master’s thesis written about the Potlikker and Cornpone Debate of 1931. Yes, you heard that right — the Potlikker and Cornpone Debate of 1931.

For nearly a month that year, the South, and a great deal of the rest of the nation, was held rapt by a back-and-forth debate between the editor of the Atlanta Constitution Julian Harris and Louisiana governor Huey Long over the merits of dunking one’s cornpone into one’s potlikker as opposed to crumbling one’s cornpone into said potlikker. Would that I had been a fly on the screen door to follow a confabulation of such import! And make no mistake, it is important.

For the unfortunate among you who do not know, potlikker is the savory broth left after you cook up a mess of greens. As most everyone knows in these days of enlighted eating, when you cook those greens down, as we all like to do, many of the nutrients leech out into the cooking liquid. This brackish elixir is known for its curative powers, and to many it is the best part of the whole greens experience, especially when combined with a warm piece of cornbread. This marriage of absorbent bread and salty likker is near divine, but what is the best method to bring these two together on the plate? This question brings us to the debate of dunking versus crumbling.

If you crumble, you must carefully consider the cornbread to potlikker ratio — too little potlikker and you’ve got a bowlful of broken-up, dry cornbread, too much and you have mush. If you dunk your cornbread into the potlikker, you are left with a rapidly-softening, crumbly piece of cornbread that you have to drag up to your mouth before the soggy end breaks off and falls back onto the plate. If there is breakage, then you are treading in crumbling waters as far as I’m concerned.

I prefer neither method.

I like to take my wedge of cornbread (and I do prefer wedges from an iron skillet the way God intended cornbread to be instead of squares from a baking pan or, dare I say it, a muffin) and put it on a plate. Then I slice it cleanly, horizontally down the middle dividing it in half. Next I flip the top triangle over so that the points are facing away from one another and apply just the thinnest smear of butter to all of the exposed surfaces. Then, and only then, do I slowly, carefully spoon the potlikker over the cornbread, taking time to watch for maximum absorption and saturation of the potlikker into the cornbread with just enough running around on the plate for a little extra sopping, but not so much that it will make the cornbread fall apart into soggy bits.

There you have it. The potlikker gospel according to Audrey. When given the choice to dunk or crumble, I say spoon!

And for those of you who think “Likker? Can’t those rednecks spell?” it is most definitely potlikker and not pot liquor. This little matter was laid to rest by Georgia’s Zell Miller in a letter to the New York Times:

Dear Sir:

I always thought The New York Times knew everything, but obviously your editor knows as little about spelling as he or she does about Appalachian cooking and soul food.

Only a culinarily-illiterate damnyankee (one word) who can’t tell the difference between beans and greens would call the liquid left in the pot after cooking greens ”pot liquor” (two words) instead of ”potlikker” (one word) as yours did. And don’t cite Webster as a defense because he didn’t know any better either.

Sincerely,

ZELL MILLER Lieutenant Governor State of Georgia

I bet Zell’s a spooner too.

 

(You can now follow my blog, and others too, at Bloglovin!)

(As I have mentioned before, I belong to a blogging group called See Jane Write. Each November SJW founder Javacia Harris Bowser challenges all the members to publish a new blog post each day of the month — to #bloglikecrazy. This year I’m giving it a go although I’ve missed a few days so far. Life happens. Anyway, here’s the next one!)

“Be sweet now!”

“Y’all be sweet!”

“Love you! Be sweet!”

This is the admonition every Southern girl hears from her mother as she leaves the house to go just about anywhere.

“Be sweet.”

Why? Because despite their angelic looks and Miss Manners comportment, girls are not inherently sweet at all. And their Mamas know that. They were, after all, once girls themselves.keep-calm-and-be-sweet

Girls are, in fact, downright mean and hateful to one another. I know. I did three years of hard time at an all-girls school.

“Be sweet, my ass…” I’d think under my breath. “If I’m sweet, these vicious hussies will eat me for lunch.” And so it begins.

Too fat. Too skinny. Ugly. Knock-kneed. Pigeon-toed. So dumb. Too smart. Country. Hick. Wrong socks. Flat hair. Too slow. Too fast. Big bow. Little bow. Homemade lunch. Homemade clothes. Lesbo. Tramp.

You name it, and a girl can seize on it like a terrier on an old tube sock and make your life miserable because of it. Forget being sweet. Mama might as well have hollered “Y’all survive now, ya hear!” as she dropped you off.

I’m sure being sweet does have a place in society, especially when it comes to the elderly, small children, and most animals. And I try to be sweet as a general rule. After all, Mama says I should be.

But it’s hard.

Sometimes I don’t feel sweet. Sometimes I want to just say something like, “For God’s sake don’t wear those pants again. You look like a mattress stuffed in a condom.” But that’s not very sweet.

Sometimes I want to say, “Why do you yammer on and on and on? I will drive an ice pick into my ear if you don’t shut up.” But that’s not very sweet.

Sometime I want to say, “You drooling moron, how can you be so utterly stupid?” But that’s not very sweet either.

Here’s the thing of it. All these unsweet things? I sometimes want to say them to other girls (and boys too), but I mainly say them to myself. And that’s not very sweet.

Here’s what Mama never did say: “Be sweet…to yourself.”

Easier said than done.

I have a sneaking suspicion that all the mean girls — and women — are mean for a reason. Bad hair day. Bad marriage. Bad life. Who knows? Here’s what I do know. Whatever makes mean people mean really has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.

I wish I’d known that when I was eleven.

We have to try to be sweet, though. If we can’t be sweet to ourselves, how can we go out in the world as daughters, wives, mothers, and professionals and be sweet, or at least civil, to others? And if we are sweet, maybe it will be catching. Maybe that mean girl just needs somebody to tell her that all the horrible things she says to herself just aren’t true.

Unless of course they are. But that has nothing to do with sweet and everything to do with reality. There’s a difference.

Like I said, I try. I don’t always succeed.

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