Sunday, April 12, 2015


Amanda's Aint Ruby was JUBUS of things---she was jubus of anybody in politics; she was jubus of a new preacher til he proved hisself, and she was WAY jubus of the new hymnbooks when her church replaced the sung-out Broadmans, because Rock of Ages was not on page 103 anymore, and she could remember it because 103 was the reddio station where Preacher Agar could be heard at seven every Friday Night and nine on Sunday, when all good folks oughta be home, anyhow.

She and her family would come and visit with her sister Miss Floy ‘n’ ‘em in Paxton perhaps once a month, spending a weekend as the hosts and their family counted the minutes til three o’clock on Sunday, when they always departed, so as to “be home by dark.” That the hour of departure remained rigid even in the plentiful sunlight of Summer days was a Seasonal Grace granted to those who suffered her visits.

Miss Ruby and her family HAD things---a really big house, a huge Oldsmobile, land and a pond and every appliance and electronic device known to man. She dressed beautifully, even in her ‘duster” for First Cup every morning---it was always accessorized with exactly-matching little scuffs, and sometimes a co-ordinated headband in her wiry hair. She wore Capris often, with a shirt-tail-out blouse, either sleeveless, or with the sleeve cuffs ironed into starched creases sharp as the pages of a book. And she smoked. Nobody had any say in her smoking in the house---her reply was always, “Get used to it,” as she swung the umpteenth big old kitchen match through the air and blew little silvery dragon-snorts from her nostrils.

Everybody in the family was sorta afraid of her---her two older sisters and even her parents.  Amanda, Miss Floy’s oldest and quite a kitchen-whiz herself, helped her Mama all she could, letting her go relax on the porch with the company, while she did the dishes or cooked the next meal or baked a cake.   She left the chatting and socializing with Aint Ruby to her Mama and Grandma, letting them “get their visit out,” and keeping up with the chores because her Mama was absolutely wore plumb out just being with Aint Ruby for the weekend.

As they gathered at the dining table one Winter night, they sat down to a good hot hearty pot roast supper, with that big old silvery Magnalite roaster plumb full of tender chunks of beef and potatoes and carrots in a savory onion gravy, and side dishes of tee-ninecy English peas and three-bean salad.   Amanda was already a “dab-hand” with the biscuit-making, doing them just like Grandma Foshee always had, with a well in the middle of flour in the big pan, a BIG three-finger scoop of Crisco worked in with her fingers, and then the buttermilk, likewise.   Those were some of the best biscuits in the history of baking, and a big plate of them always sat on the table, supper or breakfast, if there was gravy involved.

Amanda and her sister set the table real pretty, and that night she’d put pickles and preserves and jelly into pretty little dishes, and poured the sorghum (a MUST for their Daddy,  when there were biscuits on the table) into a heavy little pitcher.

As the syrup pitcher reached Aint Ruby, she poured a generous pool over her biscuit, then, noticing an errant drop on the pour-lip of the pitcher, she raised it to her mouth, lapped out her tongue, and took a big old sidewise lolling slurp all the way around the pitcher-lip. looking impishly around the table as she went. She passed it on with a hearty, raucous laugh, as they all looked on in amazement and disgust.   On and on it went round the table with no takers---apparently nobody else really had a taste for syrup that evening, anyway. And Amanda made sure the remains got poured down the sink before she washed the pitcher.

From all the stress and work and dread of the visits, two of the things everybody remembers most about Aint Ruby concerned her cooking---she didn’t ever, as the saying went, “turn her hand” when it came to clearing the table or washing up, but would “help out” in the kitchen only when it struck her to barge in and insist on preparing a dish or two “the way EYE make ‘em.” 

She always insisted on making the devilled eggs, and in addition to a big spoonful of pickle relish, she added several tablespoons of sugar into the mix, so that every bite went crunch. And a cup of sugar into the Cheese and Macaroni, cause that’s how her husband’s Mama made it, and that’s how HE liked it. Good thing---that made ONE who would eat it.

And all the rest of the family were mightily jubus of that macaroni, so Amanda always wrapped it up nicely in Tupperware for Aint Ruby,  “. . .for your supper when you get home, cause I KNOW you’ll be too tired to cook.”

Sunday, April 5, 2015



Oven 350.  Prepare 2 8” pans:  Lay a sheet of waxed paper a little bigger than width of pan on cutting board.  Set pan on paper and trace all the way around bottom of pan, close as you can get, with the tip of a paring knife.   Cut out pattern with scissors and drop into bottom of pan.

No greasing or flouring necessary; in the words of the nice lady who taught Amanda the trick:  “Run a knife around the edges and it can’t do nothing but fall out.”   Peel off paper and flip right-side up on rack to cool.

This 8” cake will serve twelve nicely---six if they’re your brothers, and hide it if you want a taste yourself.   This recipe is mighty tasty, like a buttery orange velvet cake, despite its weird ingredients.  It came about one midnight baking when she found herself clean out of Orange flavoring, Orange Oil, and not even a box of Orange Jello in the house.   She did find a jar of TANG, and the seven-miles-to-town said, "AW, give it a try---what can it hurt?"


Mix dry ingredients, then beat all with mixer for 4 minutes.  Divide between pans.

Bake 25-30 minutes; cool 10, then peel off paper and flip right-side up on rack to cool.   Flat-trim layers by sliding perfectly level serrated knife across top with a little sawing motion.   If layers rise above pan, you can do the leveling slice before taking them out.


1 stick softened butter OR 1/2 c. Crisco
1 box powdered sugar, sifted
2 or 3 t. Pet Milk
1 t. white vanilla
½ t. butter flavoring (NOT butter-nut).

Cream butter and add half of powdered sugar.   Beat until incorporated, then add other ingredients and whip 8 minutes, til like marshmallow.   You can do two recipes at once, with a heavy- duty mixer such as Kitchen-Aid.

Amanda knows that this cake recipe makes two eight-inch layers, which exactly fill the pans when baked.  She follows the Wilton “how many cups of batter per size of pan” for all the tiered cakes---some will hold one, and some 12.   She measured out a whole making of batter once, a cup at a time, and wrote it all down, so it’s just a matter of multiplying.

She does NOT, however, follow their mingy measurements for cutting a cake. 

24 servings out of an eight-inch cake, indeed!   And 56 out of a 12”!   No Mama in five counties would be able to hold up her head if she served such tight-fisted lil'ol' portions.  Why, for such diddly-squat hospitality as that to pass muster, there would have to be a great big dessert bar with banana pudding in punchbowls, along with cobblers, pies, three chocolate fountains, and a Krispy Kreme truck arriving at midnight with the HOT NOW light on.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


THEE-ater. Pronounce it to yourself before you start; say it out loud. Not like the THEE in My Country ‘Tis . . ., but like you’d yell, “THIEF!!” when he was running off with your purse---only leave off the “f.” THEE-a-ter---now you’ve got it.

Paxton's was on “Main Street” and was a one-aisle little affair, with maybe a dozen rows down, six-on-each-side, with the far side chairs butted right up against the wall. When you got in a row, you were in. The whole place seems narrow now, with the ticket-lady facing you through her big window in that glass room out front. She sat behind the glass with the round hole and the scallop in the bottom for our hands to make the exchanges. We slid in the dime, she tore a flimsy bit of numbered cardboard off a big spindled-roll, and slid it back through the gap.

If we’d been lucky, our parents would have parted with a quarter, and so the quarter-in, dime-and-nickel out was a wonderful exchange. An about-face took us a few steps to the bigger window, with its big glass pull-down, through which the crackly little slick bag of popcorn and cups of Co-Cola were passed. Another dime bought one of each, and with your hands full, you waited at the double-door for someone to pull the heavy handle.

And walking into that dim cave, that flickery, same-air-as-last-week darkness, with the sound blasting and the flitter of action on the screen---next to Heaven on a Saturday afternoon. If you held the door for a moment, perhaps with your hip, so others could pass, the upsurge of dust motes in the dark glittered in the glare-path of the sun. Goodness knows what we breathed in there---and at one theater in a nearby town, the smoke in the place practically obscured the screen before the last THE END.

Sometimes we'd pick a lull in the action, somebody would count to three, and we’d all BLOW with all our might, sending the swoops and ribbons of Camel and Lucky smoke into great billows like Mr. West-Wind's breath, floating down toward the screen.

We settled down, chatter at a minimum (Mr Redding had a BIG flashlight, and when he said SHHH, from the back, you'd better, or you'd be picked out in the beam like a spotlight while everybody laughed). The usual Saturday rustle of fifty lively kids accompanied newsreel, serial, cartoon, previews, and whatever cowboy black-and-white was the choice of the week. We were on friendly terms with Roy and Dale and Trigger, with Hoppy and Gabby and Rex Allen (my, wasn’t he handsome, and could SING!!) and Whip and Lash and Johnny Mack Brown, as well as Gene Autry and Frog Milhouse and his alter-ego Smiley Burnette.

We cheered Tarzan and Boy and Sheena, booed the Leopard Woman and anybody who gave any indication of being an owlhoot, drygulcher or double-crossin’ double-dealin’ scallywag.

And then . . .And THEN:  Dorothy's Door!

Sunday afternoon was a technicolor singing, dancing free-for-all, of wonderful costumes and elaborate show numbers. There were the extravaganzas: The Ten Commandments and The Robe and The Silver Chalice, and anything featuring Charlton Heston, Richard Burton, or Anthony Quinn was usually a three-hour epic that left us breathless.

We’d stay all afternoon, as the huge square cone of light came magically out of that little window in the back, just going and going, with a smooth segue from newsreel to cartoon to serial to feature. Then we’d stagger out into the bright heat or the coming darkness, drunk with action and sound, our ears ringing from the audio assault and our chests swelled with great swashbuckling and riding and shooting ambitions that took us swaggering home and up trees and onto rooftops in all our young energy.

Those WERE the days; those days of free time and things to do and see and run after. We went home to our suppers around the family table, woke to churchbells and another small-town day.

Our modern generations are accustomed to the bright, garish-tiled new PLEXES with sixteen vast theaters, with the lights coming on between movies and the uniformed crew ready to man the little brooms to dispose of every grain of popcorn before another crowd is allowed into the empty, ventilated  room.

I know they’ve all probably heard the phrase, but those generations who have never twice sat through a continuous run of a movie and all its attendant extras, welcome to stay on in their seats til the final lights went on to signal That's All Folks---I wonder how many of them know the real origin of, “This is where I came in.”


Amanda Bridger enjoys looking in on several baking sites, and is amazed at the beautiful and complicated creations on some, the colorful swoops and swags and layers tottery-tall like Dr. Seuss’ sweetest dreams. She loves seeing the work of people’s hands, and admires all the different aspects of the work and the imagination and skill of the bakers. She especially likes a site called “Cake Wrecks,” and is doubly amazed at the awful and funny and sadly optimistic pieces of other folks’ baking craft, and is extremely awed every Sunday by the intricate and complicated and perfectly-done work of baking artists in their own shops around the world.

Amanda dropped the top of a wedding cake once, flipped upside down in the trunk of the clean-sheet-lined car, and had to run back in and get out all the icing and tips and bags and refurbish the luckily-unbroken tier. And once as she turned a corner in the long delivery wagon, she heard an ominous, heart-lurching thump from the back. A BIG can of pineapple juice intended for the punch had jumped from the top of the bag with its fellows, and landed neatly between Tier 2 and Tier 3 of a Wedding Cake, all set out separately for the delivery, and not a scratch or dent on either one. The can was rolling gently back and forth, bumping the cakeboards, never touching the cakes, but it could have had the devastating effect of a Richter 5 on all those tender layers.

And she cannot imagine presenting anything less than a well-made cake to any client.

Way back when she was first getting started in her home kitchen, she had taken an order for one birthday cake, decorated as a baseball diamond. Normally, she did not take orders during the week, as she had another full time job as well. But she was friends with the lady who asked, and liked the little boy who was celebrating his birthday.

But one birthday cake can involve as much mess and confusion and sifting and frosting as would a dozen, especially in a home kitchen with the children doing homework in the breakfast area and helping cook supper, besides. Not to mention a neighbor's child, a forlorn young girl who magically appeared at the door at suppertime, about three days a week, for her Mama was a nurse, and went straight to bed for a long nap right after her 7-3 shift ended every day.

So the layers were baked, the frosting made, the supper cooked and eaten, and the homework finished. The four teenagers settled at the table for a rousing game of Yahtzee while the frosting and decorating were going on. When the cake was finished, in order to clean the LOOONNNG kitchen counter properly, and to guard the safety of the finished cake from flying mists of antibacterial sprays, and since the table was occupied, the cake was removed to the living room, to the safety of the coffee table.

Had there been a family dog, never would she have put the cake in such a vulnerable spot. Since there was just the one old fat-as-mud ladycat, which seldom emerged from beneath the bed to blink warily in the daylight, and since cats are known for hating sugar, anyway, no thought was given to any danger from that quarter.

During the final counterwipe, a fresh pot of decaf brewing and an easy chair and a nice cozy mystery for resting mind and body in the offing, there was heard in the house an odd sound. Even over the raucous cheers and jeers of the four Yahtzee-heads, came the sounds of "smick-smick-smick" from the living room. All peeked in to see the cat, roused from her hibernation and magically levitated onto the coffeetable, energetically licking second base clean off the field. And a couple of the outfielders hadn't fared too well either, like they'd taken a frantic slide and buried face-deep in mud.

Wide, wary eyes turned toward Amanda. "You ARE going to scrape that off and fix it, aren't you?" the kids chorused, as if rehearsed.

"No, I am NOT!!" was the emphatic answer, as rattling of cupboards, melting of butter, sifting of flour began afresh at 9 p.m. The table of players erupted in joyous yells, as they scrambled for plates, forks, the jug of cold milk. They incised that yukky section away as skillfully as a surgeon cutting a wart, and shared out great soft slices of the cake---and right at bedtime.

Second Cake was baked, cooled, frosted and decorated, finished about 1 a.m., with a thorough sanitizing cycle in the dishwasher for all the little plastic nine.

Amanda’s children have told her for years how much they appreciated that she did start over, not just for the unexpected snack, of course, but that she had standards far above foisting damaged goods onto trusting clients. And the kids are the reason that she spends so much time on other people’s parties, sweeping up the midnight rice from weddings not her own.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


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Mary Calyx (CAL-ix) Diebold---her Mama thought "Mary Alice" was too plain, and she saw calyx in a book and thought it was some kind of a flower, not a PART of a flower. Mary Calyx wears blouses and skirts---great wide ones, with plenty of room to get on and off her bicycle without her slip a-showin'. Her gray Soft-Spots and thin white anklets can be seen pumping that Schwinn all over town, especially to the site of any local happenings. She will never learn to drive a car---her nerves won't allow it. A thick headband holds her wiry browny-gray hair back from her face, and a big ole stiff turkeytail of it sticks straight out over the tight elastic at the back of her head.

Mary Asenath Diebold---elder sister of MC---they're the only two children of the only Catholic family in town. MA was forever christened Mersenith from first grade on. Mersenith can drive, ride, shoot or field-dress anything that she can get her hands on. She hopped in the pickup beside her Daddy when she was still in diapers, standing on the seat with her little arms stretched across the back for balance. She's spent more than a few days lying in an icy field, waiting for a flock of mallards to come in for the night. She works at the Mayor's office, moved into a little furnished apartment in the side of Mrs. Crossland's house when she finished her Secretarial Course at the Junior College, and drives a second-hand Accord, which she paid for herself.

Nancy Fred Baxter---named after her Daddy. An only child, she was a jeans-wearing, tree-climbing, horse-riding tomboy---the lone small female in a neighborhood of all boys, as far as the eye could see. She learned to rip and roar with the best of them, standing up in the Saturday movie to cheer on the hero and boo the villains with shouts and flung Sweet Tarts. Her pockets were stuff-sprung from the weight of her Barlow, her spinnin’ top and Prince Albert bagful of marbles. In her teen years, she hid her hands beneath desk or book, embarrassed at the still-prominent calluses from her years of winning everybody’s aggies. And in her grown-up jewelry box, transferred from the childhood pink one which opened to let a tiny ballerina twirl to a halting, jerky rendition of “Fascination,” she still has her two steelies from those marble-shooting days.

Nancy Fred hates her name, but not as much as Oscar Jeniece Overton must--- after four boys and two other girls, and her the baby---they finally named one after Mr. Oscar. Between layin’ a burden that great on a little baby, and his triflin’ ways in general, the consensus of the town women was that Mr. Oscar needed shootin’. But they never let on to Miss Ethel, his wife---she has quite a big enough Cross to Bear.

Anna (pronounced AHH-NNA) Helen Upchurch crochets and collects Precious Moments and Lladro. She started with a pretty little corner cabinet from a yard sale, proudly called it her étagère, and proceeded to fill it with tiny sweet-faced, big-eyed little bits of ceramic. It was the eyes that called her, like beseeching little prisoners peeking out from behind those teacup tears. And every wall in her house has at least one print of a house or church or street, with flower boxes, glowing street lamps, and a golden glow through every window.


Miss Audie had gone on a trip to Pensacola once, with her brother ‘n'em, and they stayed in a MO-tel and went crabbin’ and spent quite some time touring the several souvenir shops close by.

And Miss Audie had seen her first flamingoes. Well, not REAL ones, with the pinky-rose feathers and upside-down bill and storky-legs and all, but whole flocks of them, frozen in plastic and glass and ceramic, standing in ashtrays like in water, and beneath slapdash leaning palm trees and printed on shirts and skirts and postcards and handbags, clustered around seashells holding soap, dabbling their heads upside-down in bowls of permanent shiny stuff with tee-ninecy plastic fish and lobsters embedded in the bottom, crooking their slender necks around thermometers and pens, and in all manner of other postures on quick-buck souvenirs. And she was smitten.

She thought them the height and depth and breadth of Nature’s talent for outlay of Beautiful. She loved the pinks, and the rose, and all the Made-in-Japan shades in between on those impossibly-structured and colored birds. They just COULDN’T be part of THIS world. Nothing that rich and strange could exist outside of Heaven itself, and she pictured the gawky grace of those long legs trying to stroll those Golden Streets, their graceful necks like a bevy of worshipful giraffes, bowing to Glory.

And she brought home dozens---she ate crackers and ketchup every time they went out for supper, eating only on the nights they had just-caught crabs and light bread and chili-sauce and cans of Showboat or Pride of Illinois or Bumblebee Tunafish they’d brought from home and cooked up in the Motel kitchenette. She saved every penny for buying flamingoes. Had there been an Outlet Store selling the live ones, she’d have crated up a pair and brought them home to her backyard. She just fell in love with those things right off the bat, and it lasted.

She talked about them at church, and at Club, and at WMU and Prayer Meeting; she likened them to God’s Own Doves, right up there in the CHOSEN of the animal kingdom. She looked for pictures of them, and begged used copies of Southern Living and Redbook from her neighbors, just in case someone had vacationed there and chronicled it on the bright pages.

Miss Audie almost came to a falling-out with Mrs. Davenport, when on the second trip to the bathroom during Club one Second Thursday, Mrs. D. happened to see her flicking through Mr. D.’s prized collection of National Geographics, hoping to rip out a picture and get back before time for Reading of the Minutes.

And her glorification of the birds, so beautiful in their garish grace, and the corruption of their reputation into dimestore gee-gaws—all that caused the title to start---Flamingoes were just TOO TOO; they were gaudy and proud and snobbish and just getting Too Big For Their Britches. And anyone, anytime, was open to ridicule as a Flamingo, by getting above themselves in dress, or expenditures or choice of vacation spots, automobiles, or too-elaborate Weddings For Their Daughters.

Uppity ways segued from Puttin’ on the Dog to Flamingoin’---and all due to Miss Audie’s love affair with those wonderful pink birds. And it was Pure Grace that she never DID catch on.


Miss Kathryn Roseberry is an older married woman with a perfectly good husband, but who is still known as Miss, as are many of the older women still today. We younger women would call them by their first names, but only by appending the “Miss”---never “Mrs.”   It’s like the Peerage---you’d never say Sir Connery, but Sir SEAN.

Miss Kathryn is an imposing, rumbly-voiced woman, of opinions as solid as her ample figure in those Goldsmith’s dresses, and of a great kindness, especially to all the children.   She has “help” in the house, and for the yard, and belongs to every organization, club, committee and foundation between Memphis and Greenville.  She can be relied on to get the job done, whether it’s raising funds for the incumbent governor, or raising a tent for a Lions’ Club fish-fry (well, maybe she’d bring her long-time employee Jonah to help with that one). 

One day I got an excited call at work from Miss Kathryn, speaking so fast I could hardly decipher her words.  She’d been in an absolute fantod for days, having lost the quite large stone from her engagement ring, and had searched high and low, still wearing the ring with its sad empty clutch of prongs standing there like a wistful coronet on a Disney-Frog Prince.

 She'd come into our office several times, and would pry and poke around, to the extent of going into the trash can once, even lifting out the sag of the big grounds-stained coffee filter in her fingertips like an overfilled diaper.

She'd made her way up and down the street, stepping into stores and offices with her purse square on her shoulder and Mr. Slim's big ole square EverReady flashlight in her hand, looking under desks and into corners to see if her stone might have rolled that far. We'd see her on the street, kicking a rock, looking down down down, her glasses sliding from her sweaty nose to end with a little bungee jerk on the end of their rhinestone chain.

You'd have thought the Kohinoor had been purloined and secreted somewhere in our small town, and SHE, Allan Quatermain, commissioned to ferret it out.

She called me one day, having been in for her “Standing Appointment” at the Chat ‘n’ Curl, and having her quite sizeable up-do “done” in its weekly intricacies of swoops and hairpins and enough Aqua Net to plaster Paris. She’d also had her manicure, those dark old talons shellacked within an inch of their lives in a deep red, which rendered her every gesture a blur of crimson. You could always tell who had just had her nails done, by the position of their hands on the wheel, or how they sorta scrambled for their keys or wallet with the sides of their thumbs, so as not to disturb the not-quite-dry polish.

I answered the phone, to hear a babble of excited words, uttered in what I quite possibly believe was one breath:

“I FOUND IT!!! I FOUND it!!! I opened the door on the right hand side, and it TWINKLED at me!!! It was just a-shinin’ in that dirty flowboard over there by the gas pedal! I leaned in so quick to get it before I lost sight of it, I knocked three a' four pins outa my hair on the stirrin’ wheel and the gearshift!

I come up with it, though, my hair just a-hangin’ and my fingernail polish done scratched all to Hell, from grabbin’ so hard in that sandy carpet.

I’m just tickled to death! I was afraid I was gonna hafta go clear to Memphis to find another one, or else wear this ole hole on my hand forever, one.

I feel like if I hadn’t-a gone by Clorene’s with those fruit-jars, I never woulda found it, cause when I opened the door in her yard, the sun hit it just right, and I KNOW it woulda done been eat up by the vacuum cleaner next time Jonah washed my car!

Thank you, JESUS!”

Thank you, indeed. He was even mentioned in the ad she took out to impart her good news to the whole county.

Monday, March 30, 2015


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 SPORTS, 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!’”


The only place you could buy wine in Paxton when I was a child was at Edelstein's Dry Goods Store, a bit of an unmeant oxymoron, for I’m sure Mr. Edelstein didn’t have a liquor license---you couldn’t GET a liquor license back in the days when the store flourished and local matrons with their purses hung firm on their arms clinked the little gold bell as they entered, stepping up onto the brass-edged entry tiles---small gray octagons the size of a lady’s watch.

I loved to trace them whilst my mother shopped, and sometimes I’d remember to bring a little twig from home, to run round and round the tiny edges, with the almost inaudible click as the little stick made contact with the next tee-ninecy corner. I have no idea why the flat little things fascinated me so---and I couldn’t imagine how they must have been laid. I thought the workmen must have had really tiny hands.

The bottles of wine stood on a shelf behind the cash register, brightly shining their deepest purple through the gleam of glass---I don’t suppose The Law ever paid any attention to a nice Jewish man selling ceremonial wine to his fellow celebrants, for I never heard that there was any trouble over the Wet Goods sold right there amongst the dresses and shoes and bolts of fabric. To a child who’s never seen liquor in any form, they looked like black-purple Kool-Aid in big ole Karo jugs---the star, unfamiliar, but recognizable, and they were dismissed without a thought, other than for their pretty appearance.
Our neighbor Mrs. Davenport was given a recipe by some of her husband’s people over in Benoit; it came out of a tiny give-away cookbook, and the recipe had the exotic title, “Special Salisbury Steak.” She’d eaten some at her In-Laws' and it was scrumptious---it had wine in it. She debated, weighed her options of being seen buying booze against the elan of having the most popular dish at Church Supper, and since the only game in town was the Mogen David at Edelstein's---she just marched right in there and bought a bottle, as big as you please, right along with five yards of pink dotted Swiss and a Butterick pattern.

She took that heavy bottle home, fried up those little beef patties and onions and mushrooms, measured out a cup of the dark brew into the gravy, and was astonished at the strange color and scent of Welch’s that boiled up out of that pan. The whole thing, meat and all, looked a little bit funny, sort of a deep maroon shade, but one little spoontip told the tale---that stuff was DELICIOUS!

She served it to her family that night, getting out Gran Goldthwaite’s best china for such a fancy dish, ladling the Uncle Ben’s into the too-big tureen just because, and serving the meat and gravy on a PLATTER for the first time in her cooking history, just to show it off. She even served the Pineapple Ring Salads on lettuce leaves on salad plates. With a Cherry.

She carefully made the same recipe on First Saturday, doubling the recipe, and it took her two boilings to cook a whole tureen-full of rice. The big old chafing dish which had hitherto lived out its life sitting on the sideboard except for lending out for Bridal Showers and Wedding Receptions, was wrapped in tea towels and taken along, as well, to give proper honor to such a splendid dish.

Word went round the big Fellowship Hall that Mrs. D’s Sallis-Berry Steak was too good to miss, and she had to go back into the Church kitchen midway of the buffet line to refill the big top pan, for it was disappearing faster than both Mrs. Bingham’s Chicken ‘n’ Dumplins and Miss Hattie Overton’s Tomato Aspic. Even those who had passed by the elaborate setup and the odd-colored stew took their plates back for a taste, emptying the big tureen of rice, and scraping the pan for the last drops of that strange, delicious gravy.

And everyone wanted the recipe; she modestly agreed, telling the ingredients and steps as thirty women fished in their purses for pen and paper. When she mentioned “Morgen David Wine,” everyone solemnly wrote the words on their paper, mouthing the unfamiliar name, relating it to the wonderfully robust sauce they’d just enjoyed. They all tried it, making a special trip into Edelstein's for seam binding or Coats & Clarks or a new pair of slippers, with a soft, unobtrusive request at the cash register for a bottle of wine.  For several weeks, there, neither of the grocery stores could KEEP the little cans of mushrooms on the shelves. And Mr. Edelstein had to double his order for the ceremonial wine, wondering why so many townsfolk had acquired a taste for it.

The furor lasted quite some time, but then, as under-the-hairdryer recipes go, this one was supplanted by a grand innovation---put a big chuck roast on doubled heavy duty Reynold’s, dump on two cans of Cream of Mushroom, sprinkle on an envelope of Lipton Onion, and sock it tight in the oven before Sunday School. It was perfect and ready, with the meat fall-apart tender and a gentle savory gravy all around, by the time you could hear the sermon, visit a bit in the parking lot, and get home and out of those good clothes, pour the tea, and sit down.

But since Miss Hattie Overton’s trips to her sister’s in Memphis always included a little jaunt over the bridge to West Memphis for a half-gallon jug of Smirnoff, her Tomato Aspic never did lose ITS appeal.


This haunting angel is one of many photographed by Janie at Southern Lagniappe.   I was struck immediately by the name---straight out of Faulkner, and by the age of the young woman---just twenty-seven, and by the words “daughter of” on the stone.    My imagination jumped to several women I have known, forever known as daughters of, for they lived out their entire lives in the house they were born in, cared for by or taking care of, their parents. 

Some were not well from birth, in body or mind or both, and some were simply what was known as “dutiful daughters” to the people who had raised them.    Every small town seems to have one or more of these sweet women, home by choice or chance or need, and I remember well the ones who were my friends.     One dear soul, for forty-five years the teacher of Cradle Roll at her church, referred to her Mama as a “semi-invalid”---always; I assumed it was the family’s word, and certainly not a medical term.
I knew her mother, and understood the exact derivation---she lounged her days away on the daybed or the long metal porch "glider," watching her STOW-ries, receiving visitors with a wan smile and a limp hand, and enjoying having her meals brought on a tray, but became remarkably energized and able to sit upright at the Eastern Star luncheons, bridal showers, weddings and quite a few funerals and dinners-on-the-grounds.    Somehow putting on a pretty hat conveyed extra strength and vigor to her demeanor, and though she couldn’t possibly be expected to bring a covered dish, her enjoyment of the collations and buffets and prettily arranged "luncheon plates" was always remarked upon amongst the hostesses.   My Mason/Dixonary should have a picture of Mrs. Snow beside the word “Tolerable.”

In my little heart-town of Paxton lives Mary Calyx (CAL-ix) Diebold---her Mama thought "Mary Alice" was too plain, and she saw calyx in a book and thought it was some kind of flower, not a PART of one.

Mary Calyx wears blouses and skirts---great wide gathered or gored ones, with plenty of room to get on and off her bicycle without her slip a-showin'. Her gray Soft-Spots and turned-down white anklets can be seen pumping that big Schwinn all over town, especially to the site of any local happenings.
She will never learn to drive a car---her nerves won't allow it. A thick headband holds her wiry browny-gray hair back from her face; a big ole shelf of it sticks straight out over the tight elastic where it touches the nape of her neck, and depending on when she trimmed her bangs last, a spiky ruff sometimes stands across the top of her head like a turkey-tail. 
We’ve all known them---these soft whispers of women.  The quiet demeanor and unobtrusive persona of many a Mary Calyx has graced the lives of almost everyone in the South.  They’re homebodies---not necessarily by choice, but linked to HOME by a physical or psychological thread which holds them like a magnet to the nest.   Perhaps they’re the last chick IN the nest, coddled for their late-in-life arrival or pedestaled as the baby-of-the-bunch.   Maybe Mama and Daddy chose THIS ONE for her domestic skills or shy manner or just because she coddles THEM, and will be an asset in their age.   In some cases, they exert a soft coercion to keep her close, uneducated, shorn of the capacity to choose her own way.

  Like CousinGlee, hip-joined to her Mama, they go to WMU, Missionary Society, Club---where they murmur and sip and listen, sorting Scripture cards or quilt squares, sampling the tiny sandwiches and asking, "Now, did you use lemon or vanilla puddin' in the Bundt?"
Their hair, clothes, powdery skin---all seem to be made of dry fabric, as if they spend their days pinned on a line in the wind.    And their SELVES are as elusive---sweet and unknowable, like wisps of clouds disappearing as you gaze.