Wednesday, August 23, 2017

FEEDING THE HANDS COMEAUX

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One of the most interesting families in Paxton is the Comeaux crowd, a wonderful big sprawling clan from Cajun Country, transported to Paxton by Luck, Love, or Good Cookin’.  Back in the Fifties, Mr. Arsene Comeaux and his brother, Mr. Beh’teel came up to the Delta from way down in Louisiana with their Daddy and all his huge earth-moving equipment and know-how, to teach the local farmers how to set in Rice Fields in that rich, cotton-blessed gumbo.

  The two young men weren’t too tall, wiry with corded muscles like great vines up their arms, and could lift a good-sized log and caber-toss it out of a field as well as any good Scots in a kilt.   They were great life-grabbing men, loud-laughing and hard-working and an endless source of romantic giggles and chat amongst the teen girls of Paxton, and some of the Mamas had also been known to primp up a bit before the menfolks came to the house for noon dinner. 


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It became like the old Harvest Times around the county, like in the old days when the horse-drawn reapers and combines with their equally-sweaty drivers would rampage across the fields from dawn til way into the night, with great crews of dusty “hands” gathered to  take in one field after another.   It was expected way back then that the “house” provide the meals for all the workers, and the womenfolk of the family prided themselves on the hearty fare they could turn out from those big old black stoves, those gleaming AmanaRanges, those yellow-formica counters and dinette sets to match, standing right there in the farmhouse kitchens, serving as mixing stations and chopping areas and storage of each successive dish as it was arranged.   

At each succeeding new Rice Farm, the womenfolk would hardly sleep for days, spending nights and all, over piecrusts and eight-pies bubbling away twixt supper and breakfast,  along with great hams and big pots of stew-beef and  spaghetti and meatballs, all ranged down long narrow plank tables out under the trees in the yard.    On the second day, all those good meaty hambones would reappear, in vast pots of pinto beans, set out with spoons and bowls and several black skillets of crusty cornbread, along with bowls of vinegary slaw and platters of sliced tomatoes and sweet onion.   There was a code to those Harvest meals, as unbreakable as taking your very best dish, IN your very best dish, to a Church Supper.   You fed the men well who “made” your living by bringing in the fruits of your labor, even if all you could offer was side-meat and six biscuits apiece with sawmill gravy, along with the last three jars of the plum jelly from your cannin’shelves.


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And so the ladies of the area welcomed the dozen or so workers who traveled with the Comeaux family, calling them in at noon and supper in the same way as their fore-mothers---to the picnic tables in the yard, or under the patio, or even to card tables set up in the living room and den, if they had room.     But there was a bit of difference in the serving, this time---the getting out of fancy glass bowls and calling back and forth between Miss Kathryn Roseberry and Grandma Stewart, both young farmers’ wives back then, as to who was making the Four Layer Chocolate Delight, and who the Apricot Nectar Cake, and which one had prior rights to Sallis-Berry Steak, so that no toes, social or kitchen, were stepped on.

Those Comeaux boys, grown men both, came back and courted two of the Paxton girls whose family tables had held such welcome, and they’ve settled and prospered and become valued families of our little town.   Funny how Fate and Food can bring folks together, id’nit?




Thursday, February 2, 2017

SCHOOL JANITORS

We were talking of the early school-starts yesterday  morning, Chris and I, speaking loudly from adjoining rooms, after he'd read me a line in his book which perfectly captured the scent of the penned-up energy of small humanity, and both those subjects segued us into our own memories of those echoing halls and all the sounds and scents and colors.   He mentioned the floor cleaner that we both remember so well---the canful of crumbly, rubbery stuff scattered before the janitor’s broom to quell the dust from all those playground feet.

His words in blue; the rest are mine---even in Mid-sentence sometimes, for we finish each other's thoughts and sentences all the time.

It came in a big paper/cardboard barrel, with a metal lid that fit around the edges with a levered cammed strap that popped into place to hold the lid on.




It was the scent of looking down the cool-shaded hall, where the smell rose from the wooden floors and enveloped your senses in an invisible pink---almost a pepto-bismol---aura, like that pink coin candy that came in a wrapped stack like a roll of quarters.    The flavors were not exactly like any real flavors, but there was a pink coin in there that was a cross between pepto-bismol and the smell of that floor cleaner. 



He was speaking of Necco wafers, long-lived Edsels of the candy-world---crinkly-tubed flat things, with none of their dusty pastels flavored as they looked, but rather like succeeding pale whiffs of the mysterious nostrum bottles behind Leon’s drugstore counter.

The crumbly red compound with the consistency of slightly wet sawdust had the smell of that pink candy rising from it like heat.

The janitor was a person of consequence at the school---not like a teacher or an administrator, but a person with power of unspoken things.     You could look over into the can, and see the gallon can he’d gone to the lunchroom and got---the label was still on, from the cut green beans or peach halves.    He used the can to scoop out a canful, and then grabbed handfuls of it and strewed it down the halls like a farmer throwing crack-corn to his chickens.  He would cover a length of the hall with a good dusting of this stuff, then start the sweeping, manning a big wide push-broom.



He’d start pushing, leaning into the broom, sweeping always toward the door in the hall, sweeping into the light, and as the little grains like coffee grounds gathered the dust in upon themselves, the floor was magically clean in those just-swept rows, like the tracks of a very close lawnmower.

Mr. Book was erasing all the scuff-marks and tracks and spills, with all those old erasers, eradicating those traces for one more day.

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Then when he got to the end of the hall, he’d take a big flat piece of cardboard he’d cut from a box, and scoop it up onto the cardboard, and when he’d picked up everything he could trap, he’d wide-sweep all the rest out the big doors, giving a big hard swack or two on the threshold to dislodge the last of the crumbs.


On some days, especially hot ones, you’d approach the school doors and get a big whiff of the rubbery-mint scent under your feet, like someone crunching one of those flat dusty candies had blown his breath in your face.

The floorboards were a bit wider than the ones in the gym, and dark and oily like the planks at the feed-store; they looked like they’d been worn down by the shoes of centuries, and it’s just possible that by the time the school had been there for a few more years, the floors would have been worn through entire, completed by the sanding of those crumbs.
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I always thought the stuff was all the old ground-up erasers from every school that there was, thrown useless into the trash with a tick onto paper, or a plink into the bottom,  then picked up all over the country and retrieved from the bottoms of countless big brown metal cans in unknown classrooms.    I had visions of all the inch-pencils, too short to hold, with their erasers being hulled out with a little twisting motion, like the wrist-twist to release an oyster from its shell. 


Where this big universal grinder was, nobody knew, but it turned out great barrels of the rubbery-mint crumbs.    Who EVER saw or smelled anybody using that particular stuff in a doctor’s office or a bank?   It must have been manufactured exclusively for schools, and made to erase that unmistakable chalk/gum/hot-puppy odor of children.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

MISS PEG---STARDUST.



Miss Peg Ogletree has a little place just outside of town, on the old homeplace owned by her family for generations. She’s the last of the lot now, with her only brother lost in Vietnam at nineteen---just three months between the time he stepped off that plane into the smothering heat, and the time his metal box was slid into the cargo hold of another for the trip home.

Chunks of the farm have been sold off bit by bit when times got hard in years past, slowly eroding the borders down to the twenty acres surrounding the house and creek like edges of a melting floe, until only her small island of green and flowers was left. She owns the place, free and clear, along with four dogs, a windmill pump, two tractors, a ten-year-old red GMC pickup and a little waterfall brimming the creek.

She is a wiry, wire-haired Sixtyish woman, in loose-butted jeans and a checked shirt smelling of Ivory Snow and clothesline drying; she scrapes her flyaway hair back in a severe ponytail every morning, pinning the ends under into a neat bun, but by day’s end, after seeing to the chores all day, running the little tractor with the bush-hog for cutting the several-acre lawn, chasing two escaped chickens out of the melon-patch, and hoeing out the pole beans and the squash hills, the springy tendrils have escaped and sprung into a sunlit silver halo around her head. Her skin is sun-browned, with an astonishing lack of wrinkles for her age and her outdoor activities; her eyes are a backlit icy blue, with a glint of interest and easy amusement.

She plays the old gap-toothed piano which sits in the end of her dining room---the old foot-patting Baptist Hymns, smooth waltzes from times ago, like Let me Call you Sweetheart and The Band Played On and Que Sera, Sera, and always, the piece that she played in her Senior Recital in High School. It was her Daddy’s favorite, and he had whistled the tune almost every day of her life, as he drove through the fields, moved irrigation pipe, worked in his workshop.
Mr. Ogletree would enter the auditorium hat in hand, nodding to friends and neighbors. He’d take an aisle seat on the far back row, just waiting out the first dozen or so pupils, enduring the 1-2-3 Waltz and the Mexican Hat Dance and, if there happened to be a boy amongst the performers, there was sure as shootin’ to be a startling version of Halls of Montezuma never before heard by any Marine living or fallen in battle. So far, Mr. Ogletree had heard nine of those interpretations, and winced every time for the battering of the notes and the tempo.

He’d squirm a bit in the hard flip-seat where he’d sat in his own schooldays, waiting for the moment she’d appear in the light of the stage---his GIRL.

And all those lessons, all that practice with the repetition of the same drilled scales competing with the sounds of What’s My Line and Lawrence Welk, all the recital dresses commissioned twice a year or shopped for in TOWN by her Mama with the discrimination and care of selecting a wedding gown, all the times she’d needed ferrying to Mrs. Carpenter’s house for Saturday lessons---those moments all melted into a shine surrounding his Girl, as she smiled and sat down and began to play. Just for him.

It was Stardust, all nine pages of the special arrangement, all learned in afternoons and Saturdays and times when her Daddy was out of the house, practiced furtively, with the pages of music whisked immediately away into her sock drawer so he would be surprised at the performance.

And he was---he sat there looking down that long straight center aisle at her in the golden light of the stage, as she played the first few notes, drinking in the melody of a song he’d only heard on the radio and television. And played, for HIM, by his child. No one noticed when he reached unobtrusively into his hip pocket for his handkerchief, or when he wiped his eyes.

It was a moment of moments in his life, one of those experiences seared into his consciousness with the golden hue which had surrounded his meeting her Mother, and of Peg’s own birth.

And years later, as his family gathered around his bed for his last moments, the strains of Stardust drifted into the room, as softly as the Spring wind stirring the pale curtains---his Peg at the piano, playing her Daddy Home.


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MISS PEG OGLETREE



Long before Miss Peg Ogletree was the star member of Mrs. Carpenter’s music pupils, long before she spent countless secret hours learning STARDUST by heart, so her Daddy would be surprised she’d learnt his favorite song for her Senior Recital, and even longer before she was left on her own on to maintain the little family place, she was a long-legged little girl, lively as quicksilver, and special even then.


When she was in first grade, she was smart and clever, learning her Arithmetic and Writing in a flash, and always bringing in her take-home pages in her neater-than-most printing. She loved Rhythm Band day, hoping ever for the triangle amongst all those red clacky sticks and the maracas and scratchy boards, and when the Music Teacher sat down at the piano, Peg was too rapt looking at those graceful, competent hands on the keys to much mind her own instrument.


And when her Mama took her to her first Piano Recital that May, in a stiff-starched little dress and her wire-spring hair painstakingly smoothed down with Tame and four barrettes, she was absolutely transported.

She asked her Daddy that very night if she could take piano lessons, and she was “taken on” for the Summer, going into town two days a week for lessons at Mrs. Carpenter’s house, to “see if her heart's in it,”---Mrs. C’s euphemism for “if she can learn the notes, practice and listen to what I teach her.”


Peggy was admitted that next Fall into the two dozen or so of Mrs. Carpenter’s regular pupils, and the half hours at twelve-thirty on Mondays and Thursdays were some of her favorite moments of the week. She learned the names of the notes and their positions on the staff in the first week’s time, practicing without any prompting on the already-old piano which had belonged to her Aunt Idell when she was a little girl.

And her Heart WAS in it---she wanted to Play, she wanted to Make Music, and she wanted above all to play like Mrs. Carpenter.

For an unprecedented thing had happened at that first Spring Recital---instead of just the steady plod of the beginners, then the flow, then the beautiful rush of the progressively more practiced students, there was a special
treat. Mrs. Carpenter herself walked onto the stage at the end of the little intermission. She told the audience that in honor of her late Mother’s hundredth birthday, she was going to play her Mom’s favorite song, Rustle of Spring.


The windows of that big old creaky-floored school auditorium were open, and the muggy air lay on them all like a wet flannel sheet; the buzz-bugs circled the room in the stage-lights like mini-buzzards, and a dozen little girls in stiff taffeta-and-net dresses squirmed in shiny discomfort as Mrs. C. touched that much-pounded keyboard and brought forth something that room and most of those folks had never heard.
 

She usually stood in the wings, her beige lace mother-of-the-groom dress stretched tight over her vast bosom as she counted out the time the children SHOULD have been playing. They had all heard her play at church, or during a little section of their lessons to give them the proper example, but this was Magic.

THIS---this was water falling and leaves swirling and fairies dancing; it was like a MidSummer Night’s Dream, with Titania and Oberon peeking out from behind those dusty maroon curtains, with that enchanted forest misty on the stage, and all those whimsical creatures arrayed behind trees and looking down from the foliage---just from being inside the encompassing circle of that perfect piece of music.








And from that day on, Miss Peg’s heart was in it.


SUMMER SAVORS



Sweetpea and I have been missing our warm-weather walks and activities.   We were just talking of popsicles in the shade last night.   What a lovely phrase, that, conjuring moments of childhood and memories in the making.   As we sat on the patio with our break-and-share treats, I told her about the trips to the little corner store for a fresh popsicle---none of us could have comprehended the actual having of a popsicle in our own freezers---that would have been like harboring a fairy or Batman actually at your house.   Usually two of us would troop along together, knowing the flavor would depend on who-had-the-nickel, for buyer got to choose.    One of us would grasp the whole thing firmly in our two hands, wrapper still on, and gently give that little wrist-snap which divided it into its two lovely intended halves.   There's a purpose to a popsicle, aside from the cold sweet refuge on a Summer day---they're MEANT to be shared.   They're incised in the exact spot which physics dictates as just right, and when they snap with that vague little crunch, and one half is handed to a friend, it's a charming Childhood Communion, with a satisfaction of anticipation and of companionship not available in a cupcake or plate of cookies.

One of us would usually "keep the paper," to catch errant drips, then we'd walk out and amble home, enjoying our treat, trying to capture every escaping drop as the hundred degrees of the day worked its will on the melting ice, running the colors down our elbows as we walked in that careful forward tilt to keep the stains from our clothes.

I told Sweetpea about REAL screen doors---the flappy kind, with the strong, faithful spring which smacked the door behind you (or you in the behind) as you went in and out, to a Mama-chorus of "Don't slam the door!" all up and down the block.   The cunning little flip-latch was a bit of a mystery as I described it, until I made a little flat circle, thumb and forefinger, and hooked the other index into it, pantomiming lock.


She certainly knows "picnic table," with the attached benches, for they're in every park, but they're so well maintained that she hasn't had the full experience---the brush-off-the-bird-poo, swing one leg over, then slide your shorts-clad skin gently along to get settled, without getting a splinter or flake of paint into your hide.   Those old tables were for EVERYTHING (I will not mention the year-round fish-cleaning which went on at the one between our house and the next, for it put me off seafood for life).   

We sat at those tables for picnics, for cookouts.    We read and embroidered and did little crafts-of-the-day, scrolling our names or initials on notebooks with the names of various boys over the years, never daring to incise them into the wood of the table like that daring and slightly-trashy Opal-in-the-eighth-grade did---she of the grubby rhinestone jewelry and black suede ankle-strap high-heels-for-school.   Our Mamas would have been mortified.   

We carried our little phonographs out there and spun the same Elvis record until somebody's parent (not necessarily our own) shouted "Play something ELSE!" through the window-screen.     We had tea parties and did homework and drew maps to great treasure, and those old boards heard young secrets and dreams, and felt the splash of many a teenage tear.

The heat of the day was often assuaged a bit when whichever  kid belonged to the backyard would go into the house and make KoolAid.   It was the real thing, as well, requiring a cup of sugar into the pitcher with the nose-filling doooost of the powder.    A big long stir, the crickkkk and clunnnkkkk of a twisted ice-tray, and grabbing of whatever glasses or cups were allowed out into the yard.    My favorites were these:
Holding those thin, flash-freezy aluminum cylinders in your hand, rolling them across your reddened, blazing forehead, holding them to a sunburnt cheek---the relief was blessedly soothing.    And even as the ice melted, the glasses seemed to stay miraculously cold, as the last sweet dregs were uptipped and swallowed. 
 



Sometimes we'd all troop down to the store with its own clackety door, and an even-more-adamant command not to slam---over the years that screen billowed and stretched, prey to a thousand knees and elbows, with the Nehi or Hires or Coca Cola handplate wearing to rust.   Outside of touristy Kountry Kitcheny places or old plank-floor originals, who of today could imagine a place of business with an actual screen door? 
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First, there was a trip over to the old Coke 'case" with the uplift of that heavy lid carrying the scent of galvanized metal, the deep rich tire-store smell of the black rubber gasket, and the somehow-salty scent of the ice-floating water within.   

We never grabbed a standing bottle by its neck---if it was sticking out of the water, it wasn't cold enough.   We'd fish deep into those Arctic depths, feeling the shock on our immersed hand, letting the pure-D bone-chill and then the ache of the fumbling set our hand on fire with the deadening.     

And despite the hundred-grubby-hands-a-day jooged down into that water, and the probable rarity of a good cleaning for the whole thing, we never bothered to dry the bottles or wipe off the moisture, and I don't think anyone ever caught anything from it.    A WISSSSSP past the opener, hoping that the almost-freeze of the drink didn't cause it to foam up and waste a drop in overflow, and then those first upended burning swallows.    Nothing can describe it; nothing can equal it.

And sometimes, just sometimes, if you'd been really good, or played your cards right, or the planets were aligned, you could hold your bottle up to the sun and actually watch the drink freeze---top to bottom, as "the air hit it."     And THAT was the prize---that primeval Slushie unattainable in any other fashion, coveted and enjoyed down to the last little crumb of ice coaxed and bottle-smacked into your head-flung-back mouth.


We've gotta find one of those stores, and perhaps as soon as she's a little older, Ganner will bring home some little glass-bottle cokes, we'll chill them super-cold, and I'll teach her the true ritual of Summer:   Peanuts in her Coke.


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EVENING IN PARIS


The breathtaking blue of a bottle on Meme’s Corner yesterday kindled a whole delicious cascade of memories of another time.   A windows-open sunny late afternoon in a hot, close house, with the odors of recently fried fish, a cut lemon, a sweet flurry of Coty face powder.

It’s my very favorite shade of blue, for it's the color of the little pointy bottle of Evening in Paris with the small tassel, which the neighbor girl (a senior when I was in first grade) let me dab behind my ears a couple of times.   The bottle, scarce half-size of my Mother’s fountain pen,  was quite the most covetable, incongruously luminous thing in that dumpy little house.

She lived in a small room off the little hall, in a most unusual house.   Her Daddy was a retired railroad foreman, and he’d taken two boxcars, set them on those lacking-a-point concrete pyramids which formed the supports for so many of the small houses in every town I knew, and made a kitchen/dining room/living room down one side, and three bedrooms and a bath down the other, with windows cut and framed and glassed, and no doors on any of the inside rooms but the bath.    They’d put a sort of peaky roof on the thing, and the roof and entire structure were covered in that sandy, several-shades-of-brown fake brick stuff with the texture of a super-coarse emery board.

Her room was the smallest, for when the long space was divided, parents and brother got kind of equal shares, with the last space split into her room and the bath.    Her bed took up most of the space, and was placed squarely across the closet---the only place in the room that wouldn’t block the door.   She had to stand on her bed, or pull it out enough to stand behind it, butt-bumping the bed, in order to hang up or get down any of her clothes.   She said she was really little when they “built the house” and I suppose the menfolks in charge of the design gave no thought of that small girl’s growing up to need more than an 8x8 room.


The only other item of furniture in the room was a dresser---one that I longed to duplicate, for it was immensely beautiful to my girly-girl heart.   My own room had a bedroom “suit” consisting of bed (the one I later took a saw to and shortened the posts), chest of drawers, and dresser in that old thirties style of the big mirror set between two little wings, with a center shelf thing that allowed no foot or knee room to sit close to the mirror.

Helen had made her own dresser, of a wooden box on its side, opening facing out for knee room and access to shelves, with a curvy piece of plywood (also cut by her with her Uncle Booster’s hand-saw).   She’d taken the satin and net of her Aunt Maude's big pink evening-dress skirt from her Eastern Star Installation, and tacked it somehow around front and sides of the curve of plywood to form a lovely dresser-skirt. 

I’m sure the vision in that country-girl’s heart was possibly straight from this:





which caused her to tackle hammer and nails and make herself just One Beautiful Thing in that cramped gingham room.   Her small homemade version shone in such dull quarters, and a seat on the bed was the only access to the table.  

  How I loved those words---Dresser-Skirt.   I yearned for the wonderful crackly pink cloud to cover my own old brown dresser, and also mightily wanted some of the ribbon and tulle from the couple of dozen dried corsages festooned around her bulletin board with pearl-beaded pins.  

Despite the small size and meager d├ęcor, I thought her room to be absolute heaven.   And she never seemed to get impatient with my presence---she let me watch her wash her hair on Saturday mornings, standing at the linoleum-covered kitchen counter with a small white red-rimmed pan, filled from the battered old “tea-kittle” of the same pattern.  She rolled her wet hair onto cigarette papers bobby-pinned flat onto her head til she resembled my rubber-flowered bathing cap.   By evening, the curls had dried, and were combed out into a shining do around her head---a perfectly smooth, satiny cap in the back, with a halo of luxuriantly bouncing thick hair curved just so, and a finger-waved flip of bangs on the right.   




I was surprised when I googled "permanent of the fifties" and got this old magazine ad.  I'd noticed back then that she looked so much like Virginia Mayo, but this---this is Helen to the life, right down to the forehead wave, eyebrow arch and perfectly-blotted lipstick.   Exactly as I remember her.
She'd let me watch her get ready for a date---pulling on her stockings with the little snub of the rubber clips on her garter-belt, putting on her lipstick, smoothing all around her mouth with her little finger and a blot of toilet paper, and THEN the opening of that fragrant padded box where the "perfume" lived. 

  The box was an ashy-pink quilted satin thing, with little compartments inside, where she kept a couple of lipsticks, a tangle of earrings, a bottle or two of Cutex red-red polish, and that enchanting cobalt blue bottle of Evening in Paris, with the small silky tassel draped up and over the divider of the box. 





That exotic little bottle was elegant and dainty, cool and smooth and regal in my hand, and the simple honor of holding it was a thrill of my little-girl life.


The delicious scent was doled out sparingly, precious as frankincense.   Just a fingertip pressed tightly to the tee-ninecy mouth of the bottle, then touched behind both ears while the finger was still damp.    I don’t think I had any concept of feeling “grown up,” but I felt like the very best ME, transported from those end-of-day grubby shorts and shirt, filthy bare feet from who-knows-where, hair flying and nails bitten, to someone made welcome and worthwhile by that kind young woman, and feeling elegant and lovely in that sweet-scented aura.





I’d love to smell that beloved fragrance again, or hold that cool slim blue bottle in my hand.




Tuesday, January 31, 2017

PAXTON PARTIES


 



When Marguerite Roseberry married the oldest Ellis boy, after she finished at Mississippi Southern and he was going for his CPA at State, the ladies of the town gave several nice parties to honor the young couple.

One of the fetes was a Cocktail Supper, out at ShadyLawn on Quinn Bayou Road, at the big old family home of the Meltons---four couples went in together and threw the party. Sissy and Perk Covington, of course, as the Melton’s nearest neighbors, and the Kings and the Heafners.

They hired a lot of the food from a nice woman who worked out of her home kitchen, and had done a lot of the local parties, and they all went in together on the Marinated Shrimp and the Tenderloin in Yeast Rolls and the Caviar/Avocado mold, but the hostesses all contributed a dish or two of their own. Something about the Kitchen-Pride of a Southern Woman just WILL NOT let her set down all “Bought Food” for a gathering she’s hostess of, NO MATTER HOW GOURMET OR HOMEMADE IT IS. 


Now Sam's food, and Costco food---those are exceptions---those lovely croissants and Bagel Bites and the paper-thin salmon or already-cut little perfect cheese cubes (in three flavors) (with flags!) are quite acceptable, right out of the packages. Other stuff needs gussying up a little bit, like Miss Sandra would counsel---just pouring the small marinated Mozzarella balls into a pretty glass dish isn't quite right---you need to toss in some shiny grape tomatoes, to take away the "bought" look. 
And a pound cake, snapped right out of the clear plastic store box, flipped upside down on a cakestand and anointed with some lemon and powdered-sugar glaze, run all down to pool on the plate for even more of a homemade effect---now THAT you could set down as Preacher Food, anytime.

And so Sissy made a big platter of Crab Rollups, with cream cheese and green onion tops and a big black pound can of Phillips crabmeat, all stirred together with a clop of Blue Plate and some powdered garlic. She spread it on big flour tortillas and rolled them up, snugging them into a 9x13 pyrex with waxed paper between the layers. They needed to sit overnight in the fridge under damp Vivas to get the flavors just right, and firm up the filling.

On the afternoon of the party, she cut all the uneven ends off the tortillas, then cut them in half, half again, and then once again, to make eight neat pinwheels. She laid them in pretty rows around a big clear fish-shaped platter she had bought right out of the cold case when the folks at Piggly Wiggly realized how above themselves they had got for such a small town, so they’d closed down the seafood department and sold off all the equipment.

She put a clump of frilly parsley down on the tail-end, and arranged about a dozen tiny red crawfish claws in the green cushion---when Perk went to get a plate of crawfish off the hot buffet at the Super Lucky Eight several weeks before, Sissy told him to pick out some with some good-sized claws. She had yanked off the biggest of the tee-ninecy claws, and stashed them in a napkin for the trip home, where she rinsed them off and stashed them in a baggie in the freezer.

Sissy just feels like she should warn whatever folks need warning that there’s SEAFOOD in there.  And it’s real pretty.