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.