In life and love, it really is all about the cobbler. Read how I learned that lesson in my latest guest post for Bourbon and Boots!
Posts Tagged ‘memories’
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged baking, booze, bourbon, Bourbon & Boots, Christmas, cooking, friendship cake, Lane cake, Mama, memories, rum balls, Sook, Southern traditions, Truman Capote, William Faulkner on December 19, 2012 | Leave a Comment »
I’d like to share with you a story I wrote that was published today on Bourbon & Boots, a website that specializes in all things Southern. It’s called Merry and Bright: Why We Love to Bake With Booze, and you can find it right here: www.bourbonandboots.com/merry-and-bright.
Thank you all for reading this year and for your kind words, encouragement, and the stories that you have shared with me. I hope each and every one of you have a very safe, happy, and peaceful holiday.
Love and hugs,
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged arbor, bees, Citronelle, fruits, Granny, memories, Mr. No-shoulders, muscadines, play house, sand pears, scuppernongs, summer, summertime on September 15, 2012 | 9 Comments »
I have an arbor. I flat love it. Husband hates it – bugs, mess, blah blah blah. I don’t care.
I have an arbor because Granny had an arbor. I flat loved it.
It was covered with muscadine vines growing down to the ground and high up into the trees. I would drag whatever lawn furniture and discarded household items I could scavenge or spirit away under the arbor’s dark cover to create a playhouse, my own secret refuge hidden from the outside world. It was always shady and cool. Quiet except for the hum of the bees and the occasional bark of a far-off dog.
I would mark off rooms with rows of pine straw and arrange old pots, pans and broken plates in the kitchen. A rusty, metal chaise lounge was my living room sofa. A bed of straw covered with an old horse blanket made a bed.
In my playhouse, I ate the muscadines growing at my fingertips and sand pears from a nearby tree, both sticky, sweet late summer treats. I watched birds nesting among the twisted branches. Sometimes I would get the ladder and climb on top, the old vines supporting my weight so I could lie down and watch the clouds blow over head or feel the sun shining down on my face. I once entertained old Mr. No-shoulders, long, shiny and black, until he decided to carry on about his business.
That is why I have an arbor. I built it about seven years ago, and planted three muscadine and three scuppernong vines. They have since grown to cover the wooden frame and drape down the sides like long curtains. The vines have even ventured over into the fig tree and seem to be trying to touch the sky. The last few weeks, however, the vines have been heavy and droopy with fruit.
Sometimes, when Brother comes to visit, we go to the arbor and visit while we pick the muscadines and scuppernongs. As we talk, sometimes I will sneak one of the fruits into my mouth, pop the skin with my teeth releasing the sweet nectar, and then spit the mucous-like center at Brother when he least expects it. I especially like it when I hit him on the neck or upside the head. It is one of my greatest joys as a big sister.
Mostly though, I find myself out under my arbor all by myself, lost in the task of picking the seemingly endless supply of grapes – only the low ones for me though, the high ones are left for the birds. I wonder why I haven’t put a chair under my arbor where it is always shady and cool. I will next year, I always tell myself. I plot out rooms in my mind. I arrange imaginary furniture. I always keep an eye out just in case old Mr. No-shoulders decides to drop by.
Granted, I no longer have a need to play house. I can always go into my brick and mortar house where I have real rooms and air conditioning. But as the setting sun shines through the leaves, luminescent like stained glass windows, and I am serenaded by the buzzing of the bees and the occasional bark of a faraway dog, I am always loathe to leave my reverie.
I have an arbor. I flat love it.
(For Technorati 4M68U4SYM5FN)
As I look back through the photographic record of my childhood, I see a distinct pattern.
To commemorate most every special occasion, I was hauled out in the yard, strategically placed in front of something blooming with seasonal flowers, and commanded to stare into the sun until my retinas burned away, all while trying to smile and not look too sweaty and miserable.
Easter was an especially good holiday for playing fauna to so much spring flora as the azaleas, daffodils, sweetheart roses, and all manner of other gaudy horticulture would be in full bloom. Which makes me wonder sometimes – was the picture really about me as the cute, blonde and all-around irresistibly adorable and charming first granddaughter or was it about the damn azaleas?
Brother maintains that because flash bulbs were so expensive, there was really no other option if one wanted to capture the moment we all got dressed up in our Sunday best to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. You had to leave the dark recesses of your dwelling and venture out into the harsh light of day in order to even get a clear picture. I counter that high holidays are just an excuse to immortalize the yard of the month on Kodachrome.
Looking back through even older photos as well, the subjects often do not look terribly happy to be in the picture
and seem almost secondary to a more important subject, say a horseless wagon. Their squinty demeanors tell me that they too seem to have been commanded to stare directly into the sun in order to properly accentuate the real subject of interest.
In these days of camera phones, Facebook, Instagram and the overwhelming compulsion to share every mundane event, like what I ate for lunch, in all it’s photographic, plastic fork glory, are photographs even special anymore? In fact, once I am gratified by the image on the screen, I find I am hard pressed to ever get prints made.
I have fabulous images of my life…on my phone…on my computer. But what will Sonny have? A box full of yellowed, wonderfully smelly prints of him standing by random bushes? Unfortunately, I doubt it. His childhood will be immortalized in cyberspace or on an obsolete hard drive. It will be password protected.
It’s hard to get above your raisin’s though. That’s why every Easter (and first day of school, and Halloween, and 4th of July…) I too drag my child out into the yard, strategically place him on the front steps, and command him to look dapper and happy while staring directly into a ball of fire and trying not to perspire. “Smile,” I bark in the true spirit of Christian charity and motherly devotion, “For the love of Pete, stop squinting and smile!”
After all, nothing says Happy Easter like standing in the yard by a bush and wondering if you’ll be seeing spots all the way to church.
We were cleaning out her house. Packing up the dishes, the linens, the cutlery. The books, nick nacks, and bridge sets. Her mother’s wedding dress and her daughter’s baby dress. A forgotten shoebox filled with Borax and zinnias. Nearly a hundred years of living to be parceled out, stored away or sold.
Her closet was emptied of its Alfred Dunner suits for church, house dresses for every day, and model’s coats for lounging and pulling the occasional offending weed. Dress shoes and slippers all packed up for Goodwill. A final sweep of the floor, dust off the shelf, and this cheerless chore will be nearly done.
Later that evening at home, she pried the lock open and lifted the lid. Letters. The box was full of letters. The letters were tied with a ribbon.
These letters told the story of a young lovers who were always “old folks” to me. Teasing and flirtation. Spats and apologies. Endearment and devotion. Plans and dreams. Reality and survival.
Was it a tear that smeared the ink? Did she laugh at his pet names and silly jokes? A whole new story of my grandparents crowded my imagination and warmed my heart – the prequel to the white hair and bifocals I had always known. The ones I loved so much were now young strangers to me.
Together they endured the death of a baby child and grave illness. They raised a beautiful, intelligent daughter and sent her to college. They gained a handsome, bright son-in-law and saw two grandchildren born. They had their differences like all couples do, but they always had each other. Then, one day in November, she buried him.
But she still had the letters.
The love letter is a lost art. Lost to lives that are too busy (or too lazy) to take time to pick up a pen or go buy a stamp. Lost to technology. Lost to ways that are easier, but not better. Lost right along with beautiful language and heartfelt sentiment.
What will tell the story of your life? What will your children find? An email, text or tweet? A cd or flash drive? A Facebook message with a little ♥ and an xxoo? Maybe…if your past is not password protected.
Or will they find a yellowed envelope enclosing a faded letter, worn on the edges from rereading and smelling faintly of Midnight in Paris, inked with the inscriptions of adoration, devotion, and love. Just what will they find?
I like to say that I was raised Baptistmethodistepiscopalholiness with a little dash of Church of God thrown in for good measure. As the daughter of Episcopalian parents, with Baptist and Methodist grandparents, Holiness friends, and Church of God help, religion was always close at hand, not to mention the fact that in a town as small as Citronelle, there wasn’t much else to do except go to church – somebody’s church, anybody’s church, whichever church was having something.
We went to fish frys, Christmas bazaars, covered dish dinners, dinners on the ground, revivals (both inside buildings and under tents), singings, camp meetings, and bible school. It was a social outlet with the added perk of eternal salvation. At times, however, I found myself somewhat conflicted.
You see, there weren’t very many Episcopalians at all in Citronelle. We might have 14 attendees on a good Sunday, and our family made up four of them. There certainly weren’t enough young’uns to have any sort of consistent Sunday School program, so I went to Sunday School at the First Baptist Church where Granny (and my best friend) was a member. We learned all the good stories – Samson and Delilah, David and Goliath, Jonah and the whale – and the concomitant moral lessons, all washed down with a lukewarm glass of grape Kool Aide and an Oreo.
After Sunday School was “big church,” the 11 o’clock service, an hour plus of sweating, pulpit pounding, hoarse hollering, hellfire raining down on our collective heads to be endured along with hunger pangs no Starlight mint could assuage. I always knew the end was near when the pianist would start softly playing “Just As I Am,” but that also meant my weekly internal battle was about to be waged.
As the preacher would slowly and meaningfully descend the seafoam green, carpeted steps to the stand amongst us sinners, the congregants would rise to meet him, quietly beginning to sing the first of six verses.
Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for thee, and that though biddest me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come…
The preacher would start to beseech the lost to come up and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and I would wonder if I had the call or was I just hungry. What if I had the call but just wasn’t recognizing it? Was I going to hell? Could it wait until next Sunday so I could see if I was sure? Oh, dang! Next Sunday we’re going to the Methodist Church for family day…
Just as I am, and waiting not, to rid my soul of one dark blot; to Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come…
A dark blot? I have a dark blot? I did lie to my mama when I said my stomach hurt too bad to go to school…Shoot! I’ve gone and given myself the dark blot of a sinner! I’m sure to burn in hell! I’d better go down…I’d better confess it all…I’d better fall to my very knees and pray for forgiveness from the One who can cleanse this horrible spot!
Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt; fightings within, and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come…
Wait a minute. If I go down to the altar, will that make me Baptist? I’m supposed to be Episcopalian. Can Episcopalians even go down there? I’ll be at St. Thomas this afternoon anyway with my parents. I’ll just bet I can have this whole dark blot problem sewn up then. Yes. Yes! I have “done those things which I ought not to have done!” Good old Book of Common Prayer. I can cover this whole blot thing without having to expose myself as a sinner to this whole sanctuary of people who already think I’m a little weird and different because I’m not really one of them. Thank you, Lord! Now if I can just live until 4 o’clock…
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind; yes, all I need, in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Alright folks, let’s wrap it up now. It’s 12:15, and Mama is making crabmeat casserole for lunch. All I need now is to get on home. Wait just a minute! Who is that woman headed to the altar? Couldn’t she have gotten the call during the first verse? We’re almost to the end. We were so close! Did I just sin? Is it a sin to want to deny somebody their eternal peace and salvation because you’re nearly starved to death? Maybe I really am wretched! Maybe I’m just delirious with hunger. I’ll fix this at 4 too…
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Okay, that was fast. She prayed; she cried; she’s headed back to her pew to lean weakly on her husband, emotionally spent and somewhat sweaty. Whew! That was close! What’s this? The preacher is heading back up the minty stairs! We’re almost in the clear…our selves and our souls are in the heavenly homestretch!
Last Friday night, Husband and I had the good fortune to eat dinner at Satterfield’s in Cahaba Heights. From the cheese plate to dessert, I have to say that every little mouthful was just divine, but I most especially enjoyed one of my guiltiest pleasures – rabbit.
Now Husband doesn’t eat anything that once had fur or feathers, and I can’t profess to be much of a carnivore either. For me, it’s a taste thing. I’m just not a big fan of meat, don’t like it, never have. But, there are some things I love, and rabbit is one of them, especially when said bunny is citrus braised and paired with ricotta gnocchi, baby radishes, and oyster mushrooms! Nevermind the cute, floppy ears, soft fur, and big eyes. I can get past it every day of the week.
In fact, I even had a pet rabbit as a child. The Easter Bunny brought me his little brown and white cousin one warm, spring Sunday morning. Baw and I made it a home in a hutch built in the chicken yard. We fed it, petted it, and tried to play with it. You should note here that rabbits don’t much like being held, and, if they decide they are ready to be put down, will lay your arm open with the claws on their big old hind feet. Nevertheless, we took good care of it, and it lived high on the bunny hog.
One day, I went out to the chicken yard to visit our rabbit, but the hutch was empty! I ran to find Baw and tell him that our pet had escaped. But it was not a jailbreak. Baw told me very solemnly that the Lord had taken our little furry friend to bunny heaven and that he would be happy forevermore in paradise.
Of course I was as sad as sad could be, but who could argue that a rabbit wasn’t better off hopping across heavenly meadows than he was in an earthly cage? Plus, that day Sarah made one of my favorite dishes for lunch – fricasseed “chicken” – and the world was right again.
Today is the first day of school. New clothes, binders, pencils, and paper. New hope for a better year, nice friends, and teachers who aren’t too hard. A chance to reinvent yourself for the year. Find your niche. Make your mark. Change the world. The possibilities stretch out before you like the line in the cafeteria.
Even though I am no longer in school, I still get as excited about the first day as I did when I was 4 and started my educational pursuits at Mrs. Jones’ Kindergarten. Our school was a long, low cinder-block building behind Mrs. Jones’ house on Lebaron Avenue. Every day started with the Pledge of Allegiance recited with our hands held over our hearts (“…with liberty and justice for Aud”) and the National Anthem sung in earnest enthusiasm. We were young patriots during a seemingly never-ending, mysterious foreign conflict. Thirty years later, my son would start his days the exact same way, war and all.
We spent most mornings sitting at round tables in groups of 5 or 6. There were stories and singalongs and art projects. Then there was lunch, which everyone brought in little metal lunch boxes or paper sacks. A cheese, pickle and mayonnaise sandwich for me, thank you very much. No one cared if their sandwich wasn’t in the shape of a star or if there was a peanut on the premises. We just ate whatever our mamas sent or traded for some delicacy a friend’s mama had made like a bologna sandwich or a piece of cold fried chicken. We brought Kool-Aid in a thermos or drank from the water fountain.
After lunch we had a short nap on plastic mats that always seemed vaguely sandy, and then, it was play time! Glorious freedom to run and scream and cut capers. There was a big swing set, a merry-go-round, and what was probably the most popular piece of playground equipment ever – a rusted-out junk car sitting on blocks. We swarmed its frame like ants, crawling under, over, and all around it. I remember climbing inside and sitting through the bottom of the enormous steering wheel while my friends rocked me from side to side.
Red rover, duck duck goose, crack the whip…all de rigueur. We learned how to divide ourselves into teams, how to cope if you weren’t picked, how to lead, how to follow, and how to win or lose graciously for Mrs. Jones would have it no other way. We learned that, if chased, Frankie could run just as fast with crutches and a cast as he could without. We learned that if you pick up a snake and bring it into the classroom, the teachers would scream bloody murder, even if it is just a little one. I learned that if you kick the mean boy in the ankle just as hard as you can, he’ll tell on you and you will get paddled. Hard.
We learned so many lessons on that playground where there was no soft mat to cushion our falls, no hand sanitizer, and no time out. So many more lessons than are found between the covers of a book. So many lessons that have made so many things possible.
My mama once said to me during one of our frequent political discussions, “I don’t believe in the death penalty. I’ve known plenty of murderers, and they weren’t all bad people.”
Plenty of murderers, I wondered? Plenty as in “existing in ample quantity or number?” My sweet mama?
Well, yes. And come to think of it, so have I.
I knew a man who, in the 40s and 50s, owned a honky tonk just south of town and lived across the road from it. One night, a neighbor of his, fueled by a good deal of alcohol and rage over some unknown slight, proceeded to break all the windows out of the club building and then head across the road to see what the proprietor would do about it! Awakened by the sounds of banging on the door and glass breaking, the owner grabbed his shotgun, ran down the stairs, and shot the man he perceived to be a threat to his wife and young children.
Another friend of our family killed his father-in-law, who was notoriously ill-tempered and abusive. Again, alcohol was involved. A fight ensued, and only one man walked away.
One man had a wife who was known to run around on him. He loved her and tolerated her transgressions. But one night, out drinking with his buddies, they started talking about how she treated him and how he just took it. They teased and joked and put him down for not being a “real man.” The next morning, he found his wife. And shot her dead. It was Mother’s Day.
None of these three men were bad people. They were good people driven to defend or by anger and pride. Family men caught up in bad situations. People known to me who would go to the grave knowing that they had put someone early in theirs. Now that’s some reality for you.
My summers were spent at the home of my maternal grandparents, Granny and Baw to me, under the watchful eye of Sarah, their housekeeper and my companion. Most of the morning, I would wander around their expansive yard, playing house under the scuppernong arbors, catching tadpoles in the goldfish pond, or picking blackberries with Sarah for a lunchtime cobbler.
In the afternoons, though, when Sarah had gone home for the day and Granny was busy with the Garden Club or playing bridge as nice ladies are wont to do, my Baw would take me on all sorts of glorious adventures. One of our favorites, fishing.
You may not realize it, but some of the best bait in the world is the catawpa worm, the fat, green, juicy larvae of the sphinx moth, and we just happened to have a catawpa tree in our pasture. No amount of plastic worms, fancy flies, or spinnerbait can compete with a wriggling catawpa worm dangling off a hook in tantalizing captivity. So up the ladder I would go with the cricket cage to pluck the unsuspecting critters from their host leaves screeching in delight and dismay if one were to “pee” on me.
Bait in hand, we would load up in Baw’s old pickup truck, me sitting in his lap to “drive” us, and head out to wile away the afternoon with our Zebco rods and reels or, more often, just a cane pole. That evening, hot and sunburned, we would come home with our catch, usually a few nice bream or a catfish or two, to be cleaned and stowed away in the refrigerator for lunch the next day.
Nowadays, in the summer, as I sit in traffic trudging from meetings to music lessons to the grocery store listening to the sirens and horns and rap music, I long for the days of sitting by a pond with my Baw, listening to the quietude, sharing secrets and maybe a Peach Nehi, the endless days blending one into another like a hot and humid dream. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll rise up singing…and dust off my Zebco.