Tuesday, January 31, 2017



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.


And LOVE to all who enter here. The brick is not one of those garden-shop inspirational ones, those with sweet sayings and mottos like Gratitude or Peace or Hope, though I do have several of those scattered about. This old fellow is from back in the late 1800’s---it is the last relic of the small-town school which my Sis and I attended.

It was torn down quite some years ago, after sitting fallow for a time, as the passing years and idle hands created a shambles in its once-filled insides. The building’s eyes, once witness to so much boisterous chatter and lively goings-on, were stone-broken and empty, victim to time and the laughing vandalism of the young---the shards of glass scattered onto the pathways and sidewalks, and onto the small desks inside, still bolted into their face-the-front tableau.

I thought of it over the years, site of all my childhood learning, place of Magellan and Paraguay and Pi,school to my grandparents, my Dad, my own generation of cool cats and Elvis and sweet flirtations in passing hallways, of droning hot afternoons in study hall or class, the wasp-whuzz against the panes as lulling in the heat as Mr. Adams’ monotone in right-after-lunch Math.

When the school was demolished, Sis bought all the hardwood from the gym floor, those pale golden inch-wide planks of our playing field with its echoes of thundering feet, cheering crowds of long-still voices as loud still as the echoes from the Circus Maximus. And Daddy got us each a brick---it was a school legend that kissing beneath or pressed against one of the few out-facing ones with the word LOVE visible on it was almost as good as a Promise Ring---you were steadies thenceforth.

And it’s a wonder that there was an imprint left, for it was Good Luck to run your fingers across one on Exam Day or Finals or that quiz you didn’t study for. Or to grant your wishes that Jimmy Parsons would ask YOU to the after-game dance. I imagined that the grooves of the L and the E looked a bit shallow over the years, eroded by countless finger-smoothings to little shallow wells, and the O a small cup in the brick.
Click to blow it up---let LOVE fill your screen. See the little remnants of mortar in the letters---this fellow probably spent his life lying down between his comrades, laid square and true into the pattern, holding up the whole. And so, no fingermarks, no touches from hopeful small hands, no light-of-day until the wrecking-ball smashed so many of the long-standing bricks, and left mine to fall untouched into the pile. It seems that "my" brick might have been part of a corner of the building, for there's a paler rim around two sides---the deep purple of the face still the dark of the clay and firing, and the two small strips of "frame" could have been rain and sun-bleached into a lighter shade.
We never gave a thought that the word DIDN’T carry happy wishes; the pure commercial aspect that it might be the name of the brick company never entered our romantic little heads. OUR school said LOVE, and even the folks listed as “VISITORS” on the big bright scoreboard would stroll over and touch the word for luck.
And before a game, any game---or even before they boarded the old yellow bus to go to another town for a game, the players all scrambled down the backside of the building, giving a rub to the "V" for VICTORY. It was like the run down the line on the field, slapping the hands of teammates for luck. I'd love to see one of THOSE bricks today, smoothed into a valley by all those rough farmboy hands.
I think about who might have touched it---was it Daddy's teenage hands, so callused at his young age, from the work on the farm? Perhaps my own Grandmother, a blushing young girl whose schooldays ended in the eighth grade, or one of my dear Aunts, beautiful in their teen years, humbled by their homemade clothes and passed-down shoes, and all inspired to do better in their later lives, as they grew into even more beautiful strong, smart women, with dash and flair and lovely outfits and perfume. Was it a young man of my own generation or a hopeful girl I knew, gently tracing the letters, with a wish upon each? 

And so I spent my schooldays, in those hot, frozen-in-time, ever-changing days of the evolving South, going every day into those doors, to the scents of chalk and childhood, to be embraced and sheltered by thousands of graven images of LOVE.


Do come and sit at our table---you're welcome any time. The coffeepot stands ready, the tea kettle can reach a cheery boil in the time it takes to reach down a teapot, and there's usually something sweet in one cake dome or another.

You may or may not understand the language, for it's foreign to many of our visitors, at least the first time---we speak Southern, and it translates easily.

Some of the things you hear may be:

I Wishta gosh-----I do sincerely hope.

I hopeta shout----- I couldn’t agree more; it's as fervent as my hope of Heaven.

Hind Wheels of Destruction-----My first MIL’s description of either a messy house or the looks of a lady whose grooming left something to be desired.

Omtombow-----I am speaking of . . .

Hissy fit-----Angry outburst ranging from actual hissing at the object of wrath, when others may overhear, to a screeching, plate-throwing tantrum. Usually indulged in by females, but a Good Ole Boy, who has witnessed these all his life, may surprise you with quite a creditable one of his own, on occasion. Such as being on a charter boat and having the marlin get clean away. With his $700 Star Chair Rod.

Screamin’ heenie-----Ditto, but starts out full-blown, without any of the hissy buildup.

Slick over cloudy-----Raining and gonna get worse.

Come up a wind-----Started to storm.

Commenceta rainin’-----Began to rain, especially spoken by someone WAY out in the field when the storm started.

Takin’ on-----Crying or wailing or gnashing of teeth.

Don’t let on-----Do not dare speak of what I just told you.

Havin' a Dog in the fight-----An interest beyond curiosity in whatever’s happening. If the proceedings will affect you personally, you can complain, speak up, or sue. Otherwise, hush up about it.

Lit a shuck-----Ran fast, usually AWAY from something. Paralleled by Bat-outa-Hell.

Puttin’ on the dawg-----Putting on airs; or dressing, entertaining, or purchasing beyond your means.

Puttin’ the big pot in the little one-----Entertaining a big crowd.

Might could-----Perhaps I’ll be able to.

Ditten GO to-----Did not meant to.

Don't know Pea Turkey-----Has absolutely no knowledge of the person, place, happening or idea. (but is usually willing to talk lengthily about it, anyway)

Ain't seen Hide nor Hair of him-----Have not been in his presence, nor have I even waved at him in the road

A Coon's Age-----A LONG time, as referenced by the supposed years of a long-lived raccoon. Spoken mainly to someone you haven't seen in a while----Why, I haven't seen YOU in a coon's age.

Drunk as Cooter Brown-----WAY past inebriated, up into the territory of the mythical (or factual) Cooter, who seems to be the epitome of tosspots

Great Day in the Morning!-----Exclamation of surprise, shock, or admiration, depending in inflection

Shine-----Moonshine---the clear, distilled corn squeezin's sold in quart jars from the back of pickups. Usually in the dark.

I DO declare!-----Exclamation of mild astonishment. I'd totally forgotten the froufraw when my Sis' college roomate was all up in arms that her Not-from-the-South Sister-in-Law was about to name the new baby niece Heidi Claire. Poor thing just didn't know. I don't remember how that came out.

I Swannee!-----I DO declare, but exasperated

You DO beat all-----Also depends on the inflection and voice---can be a form of approval, in expressing admiration or thanks. In an exasperated tone---getting close to ON MY LAST NERVE.

Which brings us to various levels of anger:

There's spittin' mad, and there's "it flew all over me," and there's "I could just pinch his head off," as well as "so mad I could fly." REALLY bad occasions are reserved for "I could just go to bed and eat Velveeta right out of the box."

And Chris' personal favorite: The famous last words of Good Ole Boys:


G. R. I. T. S.

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I just have so much to say about my raising and outlook and cooking, and who taught me, and all the wonderful Southern cooks and writers and farmers and woodcrafters and just plain good folks who've been such a part of my life and all that I am.

And one question, which always arises: Grits. And people also have a great curiosity about G.R.I.T.S Girls---not Magnolia Blossoms or Sweet Potato Queens. G.R.I.T.S.--- acronym for Girls Raised In The South, the down-home, Southern-raised group of women whose company and goodwill have been such a part of life as I've known it. My own membership is a treasured thing, indeed. G.R.I.T.S. Girls (and Guys, if they're lucky) are of a Southern State of MIND, not geography. They are be-mannered at birth, born to be gracious, social, tolerant of others' foibles, and just a tad bit short-tempered with foolishness and unkindness.

They may be young or old, hair ranging from whalespout wisps to blue once-a-week helmets sprayed into submission at their Standing Appointment. They almost all own pearls, gloves, compacts, and several sturdy purses. Hats are optional, though the G.R.I.T.S set probably own as many feathery sweeps and veiled toques as the Royal Families of Europe, and wear them with more panache, as well.

They can take their French manicures straight home from the salon and plunge right into that bowl of buttermilk chicken, flour it up and fling it in that skillet beside the pot of collards as well as they can sashay their satin-clad selves into a country club, the Opera House or the White House. Dirt under those fancy nails just means they've been in the tomato patch or the rosebed or the horse-stall, but they clean up REALLY well.

They have a zest for life, for literature, for Family and Friends; both are legion and necessary. Countless generations are remembered and celebrated; Grandma's necklace is a lovely accent to Granddaughter's wedding dress, and the newest new member of the clan is welcomed with her own add-a-pearl and a whispered word of womanly wisdom in her tiny ear. The littlest ones know to say, "Yes, Ma'am" and keep their skirts down and their knees together on their trikes...they aspire to be cheerleaders and doctors, mothers and teachers, writers and world-fixers, and usually achieve any and all of those, and much more.

And G.R.I.T.S. of both genders usually have a home-learned knowledge of Nature and the hows and wherefores of where their food comes from. They see the fields---from Spring, when the tillers are crawling the land, sending out that primal earthy scent of First Turning---to the last plowing-in of the Fall-brown stems shorn of their bounty, ground into the land for enrichment during the long cold days.

We know that meat does not spring from the Earth wrapped in plastic, and have witnessed the hard facts of raising and getting those hams and sides of beef into the freezer, have hefted a deer carcass onto the hanger for skinning, and can cook all the above in more ways than Emeril. Quite a few of the G.R.I.T.S. contingent are proficient at bringing down game for the table, having received their first small rifles when most kids are still clamoring for Elmo or Barbie, and more than a few of the female persuasion can outshoot all the males at any Huntin’ Camp.

Tiny girls in the smallest-size camo are proudly loaded into pickups to ride happily out with Daddy for a day at the deer stand or duck blind, taking their own places and turns at very young ages. Nobody messes with a woman holding a 30-aught-six, and many a 12-gauge stands in a closet behind the sweeping skirts of a prom dress. Some with the credentials of breeding and a family older’n dirt get away with owning their own assault rifles.

Martinis and Mystery, Chanel and Chainsaws, Satin and Skillets, White Gloves and Workboots---all are part of a G.R.I.T.S. Girl's makeup, along with good manners, kitchen knowledge, love of animals and the outdoors, luxurious perfume and scandalous underwear and perhaps a good knock of bourbon on occasion. Florence King is the Queen of writing about G.R.I.T.S. and Belles and all manner of Southern Womanhood; Fannie Flagg is an absolute genius with a golden gift for dialogue and character and scene, as well---her Idgie Threadgoode will live on as long as Scarlett O’Hara in the minds of female readers---just as memorable and smarter, besides.

My friend Klary lives over in Amsterdam, but her picture of a fried drumstick, properly marinated in buttermilk, Tabasco, etc., then cooked to the perfect golden-brown, perfect shattery crust, is worthy of any Below-the-M/D-cook in possession of her Mammaw's black skillet and a leftover cotillion corsage.

And G-girls sure DO say “BUTT,” but most of the ones I know say "Bee-hind." In exigent circumstances, they say "ass"---pronouncing it "ice"---as in "Dayum, Bobby Ray! Get your sorry ice in this house 'fore the neighbors see you!"

It's a soothing, sizzling Sisterhood, and location is no deterrent to membership. It's all in the outlook.


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All this rich Thanksgiving fare gave us a crave for a plain old hamburger off the grill last night, and so that’s what we had, with a nostalgic delve into a hokey Harryhausen movie “The Magic Sword,” fondly remembered by Chris from his teens.  Nothing like childhood memories all at once to set you up for the holiday season.

There's a wonderful article on Slugburgers by Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Mississippi's famous writer of articles-on-all-things-both-arcane-and-interesting. I read it several years ago, and it featured sounds, sights, smells, tastes, reactions and aftereffects of her first and only exposure to Corinth's most famous culinary creation. 

It was a lovely bit of writing, bringing to life every greasy, salty, mustard-clad bite. You could almost hear her arteries begin to harden.

My raisin' was in the Delta, and we had never heard of the "hill" folks' delicacy, though our local Milk Bar---guess we were too rural for a complete "Dairy" title--sold something similar. The little one-room building, whitewashed all around, had so many items and prices printed backward in white shoe polish on the INSIDE of the windows that you could barely see the workers within. You walked up to the little screen-flap window, picked your poison from the long list of cholesterol, paid your money, and promptly had the screen slammed down as the cashier turned to yell your order at the frycook standing two feet away.

The refrigerator door was opened to reveal several tall stacks of half-inch pink checkers, each separated by a small square of tornoff waxed paper. Heaven knows WHAT was massaged into that “ground beef” before the final patties were formed---last week’s unused buns, all crumbled into one last effort of use-it-up economy, or the last lingering heels of every employee’s loaf of Wonder Bread at home, brought in to stretch the “bought stuff” into more than it was. It coulda been oatmeal or even grits---we didn’t care.

One of these pink coins was grabbed by the paper and slapped upside down on the grill. The hot, dusty parking-lot air began to fill with the tongue-aching scent of sizzling meat as the cook threw two bun halves into the grease deposited by decades of burgers. And the not-quite-mixed bread-and-meat goo began to cook at different rates, different reactions of sizzle, so that each bite of the burger might offer a different taste and texture.

I remember the soft center section, the part that would’ve been rare had the patty not been so thin and the grill-cook not so watchful---that part was unctuously creamy with moist meat and soggy bread. And it was tempting to eat all way round the circle first, to get the mouthfuls of the crisp edges with their crunchy taste of meaty, grease-crisped croutons, or the almost country-fried-steak effect of all that bread mixed in and sizzled on the flat-top. 

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It never mattered to the cook if you got two tops or two bottoms, bun was bun; you didn't care either---you just wanted that sizzling and frying and mustard-smearing to be done, with a nice slice of onion and a coupla rings of salty dills slapped on. The meat, by this time, had been spatula-smashed with all the weight of Miss Evvie's muscular right arm, flowering into a bun-sized, thin circle with crisp, lacy edges. Greasy spatula saluted top of bun, the lot went into a crisp crackle of waxy paper with the fancy pinked edges, and you received your prize, seizing it to your bosom like a holy relic.
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You backed away, averting your eyes from the waiting hordes, lest they lose control and wrest your long-awaited treasure from you. A clink of coins into the machine around the corner, the sissssssss of an ice-filled Dr, Pepper, and you retreated to the grimy picnic tables in the shade of the back lot, sinking onto that splintery bench like returning from battle. Rustle of paper, scent of onion-mustard-meat approaching your lips, then Heaven.

As I said, I've never tasted anything called a Slugburger, but I remember those filler-filled burgers of my youth with great pleasure, and with regret for the young of it, the bright-eyed lusty joy with which we wolfed down whatever was put in front of us, the uncaringness of the days before cholesterol and triglycerides were invented. That Milk Bar owner built house after house, renting them to many families, and later, the town cafe, of the orange captain's chairs and steam-table line and great gatherings after church. (There was even talk now and then about one church or the other "letting out" fifteen minutes earlier, so as to be first in line at the Caffay).   And she built them one burger at a time.

Slugburgers: No. The most memorable sandwiches of our lives: Oh, yes.


Miss Eve and Miss Edna  Milam---whose invitations and most mail, unless an individually-addressed note, were addressed to The Misses Eve and Edna Milam---were two getting-there maiden ladies who kept cats.    They were the only people in Paxton with THE in front of their names, and the only nearby one was The Right Rev. at the Presbyterian in Expedia, the next-town-over.

The ladies and the myriad cats and one old lump of a dog lived over by the Methodist, in a small gray house with a little porch.   There were quite a few bird-feeders around their house for the amusement of the cats, and the ladies had had Havlon Bright in to bump all the windowsills a foot out into the room and stretch indoor/outdoor carpet on the boards, so that all their kitties would have ringside seats to all the activity out in the yard.   On any day of the year, a group of little faces were aimed at the bird-centers, and at twilight, the still silhouettes outlined against the lamplight of that tall thin house with the two little chimneys caused many of the town’s young folk to call it The Halloween House.

Miss Eve was tallish, a spare, lank woman in print  shirtwaist dresses cinched with a matching belt and nearly-always-matching shoes.   She’d always leant toward pretty wedge-heels, and had a pair of canvas ones in almost every color she could find.   She knew her looks were nothing to boast, but she was proud of her beautiful shoes.  On most other women, the bright canvas shoes would have connoted a snap of gum and big chunky plastic earrings, but shoes were her only vanity.

Though she had not a flirtatious bone in her body, she had a way of sliding her feet way forward under her big metal desk at the Mayor’s office, so that her peep-toes would, indeed, peep out just a little bit in their neat charm.  But lately, the sevens she’d always bought seemed a bit snug and tottery, and she was veering into unknown, frightening territory---squarish lower heels, size 8½. 

    Her iron-gray perm waved to the left, for she was left-handed, just as her sister’s stiff, lighter-gray shingle-bob waved off her face to the right, and both ladies’ oyster-blue eyes gazed gently out at the world through thick glasses framed in clear pink plastic.

School Secretary through four principals and more than three decades of pupils, Miss Edna was a shorter, stockier woman, with no apparent vanities at all---given to solid colors in dark jumpers and pinaforish garb, for her own job entailed dealing with countless small hands and notes-from-home and excuse-pads and mimeograph drums and handfuls of go-show-the-principal-what-you-brought-to-school-THIS-MINUTE, Young-Man!.   And her own shoes---she seemed to have gone straight from little hard-soled Buster Browns to the big-heeled lace-ups favored by nuns and nurses. 

 Miss Edna could be glimpsed out in the yard every day at 5:40 a.m. and almost the same time of the evening, standing patiently looking cloud-ward with her back discreetly to the street, her glasses smeared and her dress creased into a gentle wedgie, as  she waited for the chunky old dog to do her business.

The two ladies were ladies in the sense of decorum and modesty---they referred to “limbs” and “powder rooms” and “expecting,” even in their own conversations at home, and were equally modest in even their bedtime baths and robings.   They never sat in the living room in their night-attire, but changed into loose, comfortable smocks as soon as they got home from work, and wore them through Wheel of Fortune andJeopardy and on into the evening til the clock chimed nine.   

After nine, there were only the hour-long dramas, mostly unfit for good folks to watch, so that was it for the day.   (There WAS that year that the premiere of Rich Man, Poor Man came on for the first chapter at eight o’clock, and they were hooked.   The mere TIME of it made it watchable, and even with the shocking moments, they enjoyed it immensely.   They followed it to the end, and when the teenage Nick Nolte held his dying mother and murmured "I've got cha," they both fished in their pockets for their hankies and sobbed quietly.

 Miss Eve was the Town Clerk, sending out the Water Bills, balancing the books, and collecting the wadded dollars from the procession of folk filing through on the First and the Third, when their checks arrived.    Her modest salary and their modest needs coincided nicely, and Miss Edna’s School Check was equally sparing. Their small existence, with that houseful of cats and their little church activities their only outlets, was pitied by all but the Banker.

Only he knew of the bonds and the Savings and most of all, the Serena Chase Scholarships, named for their late Mother, and benefiting students anonymously for thirty-some years, and then the good-sized Trust left to continue when they’d both passed on.   Miss Edna's daily proximity to all the students gave her a deep knowledge of which were the most deserving candidates for their help.   Not the best grades, nor the most activities, which seemed to be the criteria for all other awards, but which of the young people, by character and behavior and promise, deserved the impetus and the boost offered by the assistance.

 The house, reeking of CAT, was eventually sanitized and sold, and the money put into the Trust, with the cats parceled out to anybody that would take them.

There are almost two generations of young folks whose educations were mightily encouraged and enabled by those two quiet, unobtrusive ladies, and not until that new young woman at the bank meddled where she shouldn’t be and let it slip at the beauty shop, did anyone learn of it.

I’ve read that it’s one of life’s niceties to do something good in secret, and be found out by accident.  


My PINK today is one of my Valentine roses, which is also the header of my new blog PAXTON PEOPLE---little vignettes and scenes of small-town Southern folks, who are from my memories, my imagination, a combination of the two, and perhaps from wishfuls that I DID know someone like that.  Sis and I reminisce all the time, of those "olden days," as we wonder what happened to? and Did you know that this one or that one moved to Washington/has a new grandbaby/went back to nursing school when she was fifty/endowed a chair at Ole Miss?   She'll call laughing:  Remember that time the . . .  or What was the name of that lady who had the Avon?  

You’ll note that the rose is full-blown, lush with growth, bright with promise and sunshine, and that there is also a blemished bloom; I’d imagine a thorn or two down amongst the greenery, as well.

I hope you’ll drop in sometime---I’ve already put up twenty-something of the little glimpses into the people who make up the town, and will be filling it out further as time goes on. Scroll down to enter the City Limits.

I hope you’ll find someone you know, or someone you wish you did, and you’ll always be welcome in Paxton.   It's a kind-memoried little place, with its streets shady and its people just who they are, and where you can always walk in the soft Summer rain.


A post on my friend Jeanne’s blog on Saturday brought to mind an indelible character from the past---a pink-cheeked flower container reminded me of someone I used to know.   Miss Florrie had our town CAFFAY over on an odd little street, and wore high heels and slim skirts and pretty silky blouses, with her Miss Clairol RAVEN BLACK up-do and two perfectly round circles of reddish rouge. I always think of her when I see doll cheeks or clown cheeks with such perfect rounds of red.

The caffay had several big store-type windows, with maybe six formica tables and those paddy-back-and-seat-to-match chairs of the era, as well as a shining bar, bigger than the one at the drugstore and not nearly as high, right at sit-on-a-stool level to eat one of those incomparable hamburgers, or a quick breakfast for the folks who worked in the stores and shops up and down the street.  

The floor is an indelible memory, of the tee-nineciest black and white tiles all laid in, boot-tracked and oxford-scuffed despite the daily mopping, and was known to have had quite a few dance steps spun across its small expanse, in and around the chairs and tables, when a good song came on the radio.   It was always fun to approach one of those big windows from way across the railroad track, especially on a getting-twilight evening, and see all the young folks gathered in those bright squares of light---that blast of red-and-white from the tables and booths made a triptych of colours and shapes, flexible and moving---as pretty as Dan Dailey and Betty Grable in Technicolor at the Sunday matinee. 

The caffay offered a good old Southern noon dinner, from the hands of Mattie and Pearlene, who had trod the boards of that kitchen from our parents’ days; those two round laughing women with  their shiny dark faces and white nylon dresses could turn out some scrumptious fried chicken and peas and cornbread, serving great ladlesful onto those divided plates, even though the crockery levees did little to save the potato salad from the chicken gravy, or the cornbread from the juice of those tongue-curling beet pickles.  The plates came out of the kitchen, held level and straight, with Mary Olive or Nancy trying hard to keep an errant thumb from the food, and were set down on that shining red counter or table as gently as a noon-o’clock rush could allow.

Huge, carb-and-grease meals, endless gallons of sweet tea, and loud laughter punctuated the farm and politics discussions at most of the tables, as the store-clerks and bank tellers and city hall workers had their own quiet lunches together---a simple bowl of beans and cornbread, or a Paminna Cheese sandwich, and silently returned to work, their token dimes under each plate at the counter, perhaps a quarter from a planter or lawyer at a table.

But Miss Florrie now, she was a character---nobody could remember how many husbands she’d had (one twice), and we girls all wanted to watch sometime as she got her makeup on.   We could just visualize her in her bedroom, sitting down in a black slip and mules to that three-fold mirror on her dresser, reaching out with ease to the bottles of foundation, the small round compact of rouge.   A good rub with the little puff-pad, a little shake to remove the extra, and then a perfect circle, bright as an apple on each cheekbone, like the Kewpie dolls on the Punchboard at Aunt Lou's store. 

A couple of us had dolls with such gaudy countenances, and we always referred to them as Miss Flow-rie dolls, kinda wishing and kinda shuddering away from the idea of being old enough to decorate our own faces in such a manner.

We talked about her a little bit, in young-girl fashion, wondering idly if she put on her Maybelline like the teen girls in the bathroom at school---wetting that tee-ninecy red doll-toothbrush under the faucet, or spitting onto the little ridge of black mascara in the box.   A scrub down the channel, then an eyebrow-held-up with one finger, as  the mascara was scooped on from beneath in that curvy lift that deposited the sticky black onto lashes and skin.  We were mightily interested in the mechanics of the so-mysterious older privileges accorded our elders, and I’m sure we stared at Miss Florrie an inordinate amount, for I can remember that she was a bit of a caricature, as well as an almighty presence, with her bright cheeks and black-ringed blue eyes, and that impossibly black hair held up by all those crinkly pins.

A little bit like this, but a deep dark melted-and-poured coal black---a black beyond the midnight dreams of Miss Clairol herself.    Now imagine the rouge as a little red clown circle high on each cheek, and it’s CLOSE, even to the immaculate outfit.

She always smelled nice---not a whiff of fried chicken or the scent of boiling broth or chopped onion (all of which wafted from the pass-through to the kitchen, but which somehow bypassed her magnificently pristine self), and she was as immaculately dressed and wrinkle-free, with her lipstick and rouge as smoothly red at closing time as at breakfast.

She was an institution in our town, a character and a landmark (Meecha at Miss Florrie’s) and a congenial, welcoming presence in that small corner caffay.  I don’t know when she WASN’T there, and don’t know when she closed or passed away or moved, for we were up here by then.  When we went back for my class reunion several years ago, we found only a bit of rubble where the bright fragrant old gathering
-place had stood.

Chris wandered for a moment, bent, and picked up something from the concrete foundation.   He came back and handed me a heavy little souvenir:  A four-inch piece of that so-remembered floor, the tiny black and white tiles still dignified and smooth---I like to think that the little scuff top right is maybe from our Saddle Oxfords or one of the cool guys’ motorcycle boots. 

And there you have it---Full Circle from a cheeky little flowerpot to bit of the past which has lain for years in my own flowerbed.  It’s nice having a memory I can hold in my hand.


The stone was still here beside me on the desk, just now as I sat down with my first cup, and I gave it a fleeting fond glance before I tuned in to the world.   It’s on a white paper plate, for just as I went out to retrieve it from the hosta bed yesterday, the sun went scurrying behind a great bank of clouds, from which it has not peeked even a ray from then til this.    I brought the small bit of concrete into the house, its white flat scrabble-tiles intact and stuck tight, like a raft on an iceberg, and put it beneath the big sunny light of the breakfast table, with all the white surround to reflect and enhance.

The color in yesterday's picture was chosen from about nine offered in a little peacock-flash of color icon on my phone, and I chose it because it was almost the perfect sepia of the pictures of that time---didn’t a lot of us think as we looked at pictures of Grandmas and Aunts and Uncles in their prime, looking out sternly from the black blotter-pages of those wide scrapbooks and heavyweight small albums---didn’t we imagine that the whole world of our forebears must have gone on, day after day, living and dying, commerce and love and cooking and art---in those pale goldy-tan tones?

That's my Mammaw, top right. 

When I returned from getting my second cup, I reached out a hand and laid it gently on the cool tiles, still rock-solid these eighty-something years, and felt the unyielding flat  IS of it---that Mississippi mosaic which has been just THERE for life and death and wars and unrest and times of unspeakable heartache and joy.   The flat little unassuming face of the tile, with its two-faces-of-the-coin colors, and that pound of gray concrete poured and laid by long-stilled hands---that’s just something to think about.  This piece, had Chris not found it, would have still been there in that hot Delta sun season after season, amongst the other rubble of the site, or brushed and shoveled into a pile of like shards, tumbled back into the earth, with no meaning, no use, no history worth remembering, and nobody to care.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Addendum, November 1

I STAND CORRECTED---however formal those words, and antiquated in phrasing, they DO apply.   The floor IS still there, in all its black-and-white semi-Harlequin glory.  Amidst the desolation of the streets and stores of that small section of town, that flat, dusty mosaic stands memorial to our small part of its history, and I seem to have one of the few broken shards.  AHH, if those tiles could talk, they'd speak of our small Buster Browns, our black and white saddle oxfords, our first high heels and scuffed sandals, as well as the tracks of farm boots, high-tops, penny loafers, motorcycle boots, flats, wedges, and wing-tips, in and out day after day. 

I’ve been reading the Outlander series, about a woman in 1945 who was transported back two centuries into warring Scotland, merely by touching one of the historic Circle Stones she was visiting on holiday.  And as I held my hand today on that cold flat bit of my own history, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the doorway---that portal to 1957, with just a whiff of hamburgers frying, a burst of loud laughter from a tableful of hard-working men echoing down that kaleidoscope corridor, and the bright red and white of Miss Florrie’s Caffay, set in a movie of Time and Place and music and colour and the innocence of our teenage selves.

It would be close in that windowed space, the crowded  booths lively and loud, the air redolent of good coffee and burgers frying and the whiffs of Woodhue and spray-net and Miss Florrie’s Toujours Moi.   An underlying note of winter-long woolens and barely-aired mothball-stored items, as well as the Vitalis and Aqua Velva aura surrounding the leather-jacketed young men.  Scent and colour is as vivid in the the scene as the Rock ‘n’ Roll on the radio and the wasptail pepper-sauce in used Tabasco bottles on the tables.
Just being in the place for an evening, a quiet supper with the family, the men with their after-work hair slicked down, speaking across the aisles, and the Mamas admiring a new baby two booths down, was a homey thing.  My parents ordered The Special, and I the requisite hamburger---disappointed, somehow, that it came naked on a plate, without the crackly little wrapper to release that singular, tongue-curling mustard-pickle-and-onion scent when it was rustled open.   There was no rush, no splendor to the evening, just relaxing in a familiar place, plates pushed back and a cup of coffee alongside a slice of Pearlene’s pie, and the world was as right as it was gonna be for a while.



. But I know i wouldn't want to retrace it---not for all the decades between, not for the do-overs or the remarkable Firsts or the wonderful moments, the missed opportunities---nope, wouldn’t return.  Not for any disappearing dreams of yesterday, but it’s fun to imagine.  Perhaps for a Friday night or two, after a ball game, flushed with victory, and when the energy and the reds and whites and voices were like fireworks under a roof, or a quiet afternoon with girlfriends, our four sets of petticoats subdued beneath the table, as we sipped Cokes and shared secrets.  Ginger would lean close and whisper, "There's a baw-eh, and he LIKES you,” and that first   little heart-swell of romance would flutter into being.

But there’s no returning, no re-take, no second spin of the wheel.    There’s just so much a rock, no matter how embued with nostalgic magic, can do.