Archive for the ‘Southern’ Category

Heir B&B

August 6th, 2014

Sure enough, you can stay at Suzy Cunningham’s on Gravel Lane in Romney, West Virginia. That means little to folk, even those who live in Hampshire County.

SuzysWhen I was thinking about a trip to my only constant home of my childhood, I was very surprised thato Airbnb had anything at all in Romney. I was very pleased to see that the Gravel Lane Guest House was one I knew well.

I tuck a cropped image of it here.

I have to wonder how many of these deep-memory/ghost houses are in the Airbnb catalog.

The back of her house shared the yard with the back of my grandparents’. Suzy and my grandmother, Mable Michael, were best friends for many decades. Suzy was maybe a decade older, likely born at the end of the 19th Century and they could chat long enough to drive all the rest of us away.

My grandfather, Bill Michael, grew patches as he called his massive gardens, every summer. Mable and Bill would play a little vegetable or fruit game frequently. She say, “Bill, I could use a few pole beans.” That was code for I’m ready to can and freeze. He’d put me to work helping him harvest several bushels. Likewise if was fruit, he’d drive up the adjacent mountains and return with huge wooden baskets of fruit.

Then the community gathered under the massive maple tree between the two houses. Suzy and Mable, other friends, relatives and any kid who didn’t hide would be put to work. We’d shell peas, string beans (remember when they had strings you had to strip?), and Lima beans. Adults got the heavy metal lawn chairs and kids squeezed onto picnic-table benches or sat on the grass.

Hours of food prep led to hours of washing and bagging or boiling and sealing jars. After a few of these episodes, the whole basement wall of shelves became stocked with several layers of beans, tomatoes, beets, picked cukes and more. One of Mable’s two basement freezers had labeled, dated freezer bags and Tupperware. (The other freezer was for meat; her son often brought by a butchered half deer too.)

My grandmother often used me as courier. I’d ferry things to or from Suzy. Mable was the great baker, so it was often a pie, cobbler or bread loaf from Marsham Street to Gravel Lane. Suzy always insisted that I come in and sit. The curtains were half drawn or more. The living room should have had the feeling of a horror movie, but Suzy was ever cheerful and every visit offered really good hard candy.

For her part, Suzy liked Mable’s front porch. It faced the mountains. We saw the apple and peach orchards. More impressively, we could watch the rain. It was a science lesson as the rain clouds formed behind the mountains, gathering and darkening as they crested. We knew what kind of rain Romney would get by seeing it fall first on the orchards. It was the weather version of a phalanx of soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder straight ahead.

Suzy even had me bring her favorite rocker to Mable’s porch. It had upholstery like a carpet bag and elaborate curved arms carved like swan heads and necks.

Suzy died long ago and Mable maybe 15 years later. My grandmother inherited and used the swan rocker. The massive maple gave into old age, no more to host the 17-year cicada invasion. That was a highlight of one youthful summer watching them push out of their shells,which were left clinging to the bark.

Suzy was not a relative, but then again was at least as good and familiar. Her house was not ours, but we were always welcome…without knocking. Like most of my grandmother and mother’s friends, she insisted I call her by her first name. As a Southerner, my default was Ma’am or Sir to anyone older than I, at least any adult. Somehow I was on a first-name basis with many who were 50 to 80 years older than I. That worked for all of us.

So seeing Suzy’s house in the catalog (only $95 a night for two and a little more for three or four) was homey in a commercial way. Over the years, the house was lightened up considerably. The beautiful wood floor aren’t smothered in oriental rugs. The appliances aren’t the creepy post-WWII colors and on and on.

But its Suzy’s house and when we visit next, I intend to stay there.

Fractured Methodist Tales

March 11th, 2014

Nearly 34 years ago, I sat in an unpadded pew of the Old West (Methodist) Church in Boston on the Sunday when my firstborn was to be Christened. Subsequently, my later two sons were named instead at the Arlington Street Unitarian Universalist Church, which had horse-hair stuffed cushions. That day though, I had brought my wife and son to the prearranged ceremony at the denomination of my childhood, youth and young adulthood.

umc_crossflameThat day actually was the end of that religious association. I opened the hymnal to the Apostle’s Creed. I didn’t have to read it. I had memorized it long ago and the phrases have become seminal. That version differs slightly from that of many other churches, in that it leaves out mention of Jesus descending into Hell at death. Otherwise, it has the heavy baggage of doctrine and even bureaucracy that produced its carefully crafted message.

I sat there with my baby in the crook of one arm, looking at the page. I realized that I didn’t believe it, any of it — no Father Almighty, no virgin birth, no bodily resurrection after three days moldering, no judgment of the quick and the dead, no universal (lower c catholic) church, no saints, no forgiveness of sins, no resurrection, and no everlasting life.

Done, done and done. You have had your Methodism and you aren’t compatible.

The last I had felt any sort of communion with Methodism was before it went sour during the Vietnam war era. I did hang around the Methodist youth center building sometimes at the University of South Carolina. I could delude myself by subscribing to the excellent Motive Magazine. It was anti-war and pro-integration among other virtues (and had great poetry). It was in the mold of 18th Century Methodism founder John Wesley, a strong prison reformer and abolitionist in England and the Colonies.

Quickly though, the bishops (its governance was not by elders as the Presbyterians but Episcopal [by bishops] from its roots in Wesley’s Anglican communion) tromped on Motive. They had no patience with pinko, pacifist junk. They turned off a generation of thinking, feeling members.

That was not new to them. They had driven away what became the African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches’ members. In the early 19th Century in Philadelphia and New York City, the racist and exclusionary practices made it plain to black members they were inferior as far as clergy and church pols were concerned.

Today with mixed feelings, I read in the NY Times of a Methodist bishop dropping the persecution and prosecution of a minister. His alleged violation of church doctrine was to perform the same-sex marriage of his son.

With my strong stance here and elsewhere in favor of marriage equality, I had long been disgusted by the United Methodist Church’s regression into anti-gay dogma and rulings. That they were defrocking their clergy who dared perform same-sex ceremonies was pathetic if not a surprise.

A year and one-half ago, at 80, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree performed the ceremony. He said, “I actually wasn’t thinking of this as an act of civil disobedience or church disobedience. I was thinking of it as a response to my son.”

I relate. I have performed five wedding ceremonies, one for my eldest son. That was to a woman, but two of mine have been same-sex couples. There is nothing more moving than performing the marriage for your child. Three of my ceremonies were of long-term friends and very powerful, but your own child?

The NYT piece linked above concludes that the decision in this case is far-reaching. It includes:

Bishop Martin D. McLee “who oversees about 460 churches in lower New York State and Connecticut, agreed to drop all charges against Dr. Ogletree; in exchange, he asked only that Dr. Ogletree participate in a dialogue about the church and its stance on matters of sexuality. Promoting dialogue, the bishop said, could be a model for other United Methodist bishops to follow.

“While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward,” Bishop McLee said in a statement attached to the resolution of Dr. Ogletree’s case. “Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

That level of compassion and rationality is what I expect in UU churches and what I grew up with what was then my Methodist church.

I do hope that the United Methodist Church takes advantage of this offering from Bishop McLee. It has been divided on homosexuality long before being faced with dealing with marriage equality. Its bishops too are old now, at the moment when the nation has some to see same-sex marriage as the present as well as the future. Methodists in general have not been leaders here, but perhaps they won’t be the last to get there.

Big Box Bourbon

August 14th, 2013

costocobooze

Oh my, late to the game again. I discovered that Costo private brands a small-batch bourbon. Today I was in the Avon, MA, store, which has a company liquor department and vot!

Turns out that everyone, his brother, cousin and niece already bought and tasted it. A net search gets lots of hits. For both flip and savvy comments, I point to a few:

I’m not a bourbon snob, but I do like like it. I started drinking in the South, where the choice was bourbon or beer. Also a mixed drink meant with ice cubes or maybe if you really had to a splash of ginger ale.

Now living in Yankeeland — a decade in Manhattan and three in Boston — I’m delighted that bourbon has come into its own. There are fascinating bars, like the 5 Horses (Somerville and soon the South End), and Beacon Hill’s Tip Tap Room for example, that have a good selection and knowledgeable barkeeps. Liquor stores too have a wide selection at many price points and even the most ignorant bartender doesn’t think Jack Daniel’s is bourbon.

I figured I’d try it. Costco’s bourbon also fit another criterion my chums and I often use, is it a good value? We like to find superior wines for $9 that blow away $39 ones, for example.

Turns out that I paid $19.99 for a full liter of the 103-proof stuff. (There’s no state tax on booze here.) Some of the net comments carped that for only $3 or $4 or $6 more, they could buy Knob Creek or some other familiar bourbon, but they don’t think that that is a third less booze for the price, making the Kirkland bottle that much more of a bargain.

A few things I did learn from the mash heads and blowhards commenting (sometimes without tasting the distillate in question) was that this definitely comes from Jim Beam. Also it is aged for 7 years instead of Beam’s Knob Creek version, which is 9 years in barrel. It is also that 103 proof (51.5% alcohol) instead of the more common small-batch bourbon release of 90 or 100 proof, or Wild Turkey’s 101 variety.

Some went though serious research, badgering Costco employees for all our benefit. The best finding was that this is not an open item. That suggests that for whatever reason, Jim Beam did a one-off for Costco, who like Job Lots or Building 19, bought something the distiller didn’t want to sell itself. Likely when this batch is sold out, it’s gone. Following this evening’s tasting, I’ll likely go back to Avon and buy a couple more bottles.

costcotasteHere, three of us tried it two ways. I set out six bourbon low ball glasses (actually made for Woodford Reserve, a fine sipping bourbon), three nude and neat, with three holding a single ice cube. Each glass got a half ounce or so. Who knows what the demons did to me in pouring?

Uxorial Unit, Son #2 (great to have children of drinking age), and I went at it. We certainly did not keep pace with the florid, hyperbolic, pretentious posts pointed to above. Yet, we tried to judge.

The punchline is that this is good stuff, worth more in market terms than competitors. There are other bourbons I like more, but this is a fair entry.

If you extrapolate the local price for Knob Creek ($26.99 for 750ml) and weigh it against Costco’s very own bargain bourbon ($19.99 for 1000ml), the differential is 1.8. That is Kirkland small-batch bourbon is 1.8 times cheaper per liter. So you ask, is KC worth almost two times more? Of course, in the larger scheme, Knob Creek at effectively $35.99 per liter is a relative small differential over Kirkland. As we learned many years ago, a $200 retail bottle of Chablis is not 20 times better than a $10 bottle. It’s a judgment call.

So, this evening, without hyperbole or poetry, we found the neat glass pleasant, powerful, a little too alcohol nosed. That was no surprise for over half alcohol. Certainly there was the predictable vanilla scent, but we didn’t the myriad herbs, spices and fruits the other online commenters strained to ID. We liked the look, smell and taste of the neat bourbon.

I like to sit with a snifter of great Scotch or bourbon neat and dwell on it. None of us thought this was worthy of that. However, with a single ice cube, it was a fine, fine drink. My wife thought it would be good with ginger ale, but to me that means heading to a lower grade of bourbon, like the serviceable JB Black or Evan Williams. Yet, we all liked it cut with a single ice cube, which I suppose would mean two for a full shot or three for a pony.

I already confess to being late to this party. We found Costco’s bourbon to be good but not great stuff. I’ll lay in a couple more bottles.

 

Banks of the Muddy Dan

June 2nd, 2013

Back to key childhood town today via the NYT opinion piece, I recalled Danville, VA. Tess Taylor, likely the age of my eldest son, wrote on how early Civil Rights protests hit even her white, establishment granddad.

In the very segregated setting only three miles above North Carolina, I went to elementary and junior high. Separate black/white schools were the norm. Even Greyhound was the white bus line versus the black Trailways. Some accommodations were not quite blended. I think of the Rialto movie theater, which kind of accommodated black folk, so long as they sat in the balcony. In fact, when I was eight, a friend thought he was tricking me by sending me upstairs with my bag of popcorn. When I noticed that the white people were downstairs and I was among rows of exclusively black people, I wasn’t bothered and watched the double feature (always at least a double and the Rialto had the Westerns and other action flicks). Later I wondered whether anyone in the balcony resented a white kid in their seats. If so, they didn’t let me know. After the movies, my classmate met me and looked chagrined. I think maybe he tasted his own racism and found his joke unfunny.

Taylor’s piece is on her grandfather’s modestly foolish upbraiding of a racist judge for coming heavy on black protesters for integration. It gives nice background on Danville as well as the perceived praise of her relative.

I’ve written on Danville here before. I lived there longer than anywhere until I moved to Manhattan after college and those were formative years.

Fortunately, my mother was not a racist and we were not infected by the malevolent disorder. She ran the Red Cross chapter, where black folk as well as white volunteered and received such services as blood, transportation, first-aid and home nursing training and such. Black folk were as welcome in our lives as whites. There were a few Jews, including the physician who rented to us, although I don’t recall knowing or even seeing Asians. It was a two-colored world.

Danvillelibrary

We moved to a far more rural Chester — middle of the same state, but not at all a city, before going to Plainfield, NJ for high school. PHS was half black. Plus my classes were a quarter to half Jewish students. I took the bus to Manhattan every chance I got. I experienced intense culture shock, almost entirely in a good way. I did hear and see Yankee de facto segregation and overt racism though, as I did and do during my decades in Boston. The first time I heard anyone openly using the N word was in my first few days in New Jersey. The separation of races in old Danville seems to have minimized open disdain, plus likely the veneer of civility in the South.

Pic note: The building was my public library and had been the site of the last capital of the Confederacy. Danville came with extra baggage.

On a far more prosaic level, I can draw light lines to other cultural transitions. I think of common tools, such as computers. I went from a manual typewriter to an electric one, on to when being a computer user meant bringing your task, like data analysis to a programmer who typed out punchcards and handed them to you to pile into a huge computer for calculation, I went on to batch processing in a shared environment and to paper tape mainframes before dedicated (and very expensive) word processors before workstations and then personal computers.

The improvements in integration and race relations have not been as linear or incessant. Yet integration advances, even in places like Boston, although there’s still a lot of happen. To return to the weak tool analogy, much as occurred in my lifetime and my towns. I think of my wife’s late grandmother, who grew up from the era before electricity and automobiles. Like Mable Thames, I have seen and benefited from much. Keep it coming.

 

What George Taught Me

October 21st, 2012

Without ever meeting me, George McGovern taught me a lesson I’ve kept in mind since 1972. Even back in the grim and exciting days of the Vietnam War era, I interviewed other pols, including similarly anti-war U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse.  As newspaper reporter and editor, I was eager to speak with pols.

Yet the lesson McGovern coincidentally revealed was news I could and can use.

In 1972, I lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, long before Yuppies or hipsters. Instead, it was the Hell’s Angels, many Russian and Ukrainian elderly women (hubby had died), junkies, and immigrants using the area of cheap apartments as staging ground for becoming Americans and maybe even wealthy.

In some political ways, I felt a bit like I was back in South Carolina. There, I had been a hippie peacenik sort. That was a decided minority persona. Back on East 3rd and 9th Streets, I sensed the conservative vibes all around.

Russian and Ukrainian greetings and conversations were ubiquitous. Even the tiny A&P on First Avenue was an Eastern European outpost. It sold those deceptive loaves of black bread that weighed two or three times what sandwich loaves the same size did. The old women chatted with clerks and each other in their native tongues, even though many had been in the neighborhood since the 1917 Revolution. I recalled enough of my college Russian to understand the gist.

To a one, the old women seemed dour and sour. I even recall seeing one stumble and fall, spilling her bag of groceries. I helped her up and repacked her bag. I told her in Russian that I’d help her home, but she snatched the brown bag from me and looked terrified as she limped home with her bloody knee. Trust of the other was not big outside of that community.

I thus knew it was surely a fool’s errand to canvass for pinko McGovern in my precinct. I knew Nixon decidedly wasn’t THE ONE as his campaign claimed but rang the bells anyway.

The old women who filled the apartment buildings (one to five story humble dwellings, as was my own) would not have rung me in. However, as was and is the standard NYC practice, I’d just go in when someone else opened the door to enter or exit. Once I was inside, I did get a face-to-face hearing after the woman had looked through the door peephole.

They were stunningly unresponsive. I gave my pitch about the pivotal election and hopes for peace and equality via a McGovern administration.

Sometimes I threw in a little Russian, always being careful to avoid such loaded terms as товарищ (comrade), far too risky I knew. They invariably remained impassive. They certainly were not like the Swiss, who quickly forgive poor pronunciation of any of their three languages or the Japanese or Chinese, who largely sincerely appreciate any effort to speak even a few words in their language. Instead, I saw the same stone faces, never smiling nor nodding nor asking anything.

After several weeks of doing this in the evenings, I had covered the precinct, but was deeply disheartened. Clearly my audience was conservative, unswayed by McGovern’s messages or at least my delivery of them. I had done the right thing in the cause noble, but to what effect?

I had a keen bead on my target voters. They were not buying what I was selling.

Come Wednesday, November 8th, the day after the election, I had an awful acknowledgement and a shock. First, Nixon had crushed my man. Only Massachusetts went for McGovern. Yet, yet…when the precinct results appeared in the papers later, mine had gone overwhelmingly for McGovern. I think it had the highest percentage in the city and state. Those sour elderly women were not at all as I knew them to be.

They didn’t make a deal out of their leftist leanings. They didn’t show them, at least to me. Those many Russian and Ukrainian elders did want what McGovern offered. Perhaps they had experienced enough war and violence and death and instability in their earlier years. Perhaps this or perhaps that. Regardless, they voted as I.

So I learned and have remembered. When I’m cocksure that my assumptions are absolutely correct, that’s far, far less important than reality. You need to ask, to make your pitch, to expose yourself, to be open to the obvious or even the eventual responses of others.

As my mother told me many times, ask, the worst you can hear is, “No.”

Running on Purpose

April 17th, 2012

Yeah, yeah. New Englanders enjoy weather talk at least as much as anyone else. For heat though, we’re not so remarkable.

Take yesterday, Patriots Day celebrated and to much of the world Boston Marathon running. For all the pre-race noise about record-breaking temps and certainly for post-race recaps looking for agony, Southern-style heat/humidity combos are extremely rare up here. Yesterday wasn’t, if you pardon, in the running.

I wanted to take a long bike ride. To me, 80′s with a humidity in the low 20′s is comfortable. Of course, I wouldn’t have put myself out for the self-brutality of the 26-plus mile set. However, my legs were a bit sore from previous cycling, so it was a six-mile hike instead. I did take a water bottle though.

Along the way, I passed a Latino heading in the opposite direction at about equal, rapid pace. He was happy and from his accent and appearance, he seemed to be reflecting on his Central American upbringing. He called out cheerfully, “Hola!” and added in English “Summer!” He was a happy guy.

My youngest though, at 18, considers sweating grotesque and an affront to all humanity. He called yesterday “Damned hot.”

For the Marathon though, the Globe reported that thousands of registered runners punked out. The Boston Athletic Association said 3,863 did not pick up their numbers (c. 14%). Then 22,426 did but 427 took the option of deferring entry until 2013. Yet, after all that, the BAA also said that 96% finished the race…eventually, compared to 98% in a typical running of this race. There was a wide range of estimates of how many needed any sort of medical assistance and none differentiation for heat-related troubles.

So, in the main, the slightly higher temps was much harder on the runners’ fragile self-confidence than their bodies.

I don’t do marathons. However, it seems that set has a fair number who are Goldilocks. They want things just right…not too cold, certainly not too hot. I may question their wisdom in trying to run 26.2 miles, but never their perseverance.

Then again, for weather, having lived throughout the continental U.S., I find the reactions to air are themselves remarkable. We didn’t hear the African runners complaining of the heat, nor runners from the Southern half of the nation. Yet, visiting here or there, we see those differences. Southerners are apt to put on a sweater at 70 degrees, while Yankees may be in shorts and t-shirts in the 40s. Bostonians are wont to complain of the heat at 78 degrees, while down South that point of comment is in the 90s.

Of course, a cliché of Southerners with some truth is that they don’t run if they can walk and don’t walk if they can sit.

Drinking with the Animals

December 18th, 2011

Eagles, Owls, Lions, Moose and such were oases in the West Virginia desert. When I came of drinking age (18 for beer and wine at the time), WV sold only that soda pop called 3 point 2 beer. That is, the alleged beer could be no more than 3.2% alcohol by volume and was generally even lower, below what even British pubs serve.

eagles

Moreover, the town where I spent my summers and holidays was in a dry county. That was, a dry county of no liquor stores, no booze, beer or wine in restaurants, and no bars, except for fraternal organizations.

Surrounding counties had beer joints, generally called taverns. All they offered was pickled eggs on the counter, maybe burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, and bottled lagers. My grandfather favored National Bohemian (Bo). My sister and I would have dueling orange sodas — Pal v. TruAde.

If you wanted a real beer, you could head North the PA or MD or East to VA. That was too far if you wanted one or two beers on a hot day or cool night.

Instead, men went to visit the animals. All the birds and mammals were really bars, as were the American Legion, VFW and such. To this day, I think of those opaque glass blocks that formed the exterior walls and where the windows would be as VFW brick. Of course, they were where transparent windows normally would be, except they hid the disgrace of non-productive time for men doing something still seen as sinful by much of the populace.

For us late teen types, there was that other problem. None of us was a war vet; we didn’t belong to those. Nor were we family sorts who were part of the Moose, Elks or other animals.

The Order of the Owls flew to our rescue. Just outside of town on the highway was an Owl’s Nest. This was not the Independent Order of Owls related to the Freemasons. As I recall, this was the Loyal Order of Owls. Membership required showing a driver’s license and buying a membership card for (ta da) $2.

For that, you were an Owl for a year. There was burger-level food, but guys were there for a local beer. Hampshire County regulated this as a fraternal organization. After all, you were a dues paying member.

There wasn’t much memorable about this roadhouse, except for a particularly dexterous waitress. She was middle-aged, our mother’s era, but she could pour. From the first visit, we were impressed. Five of us sat at a round table. She brought five bottles and five glasses pressed together into a glass castle. In one motion, she set them all on the table, with the glasses facing us. She quickly pulled back, taking the five bottles toward her and in the same motion, arced them to the glasses’ rims. She quickly and neatly poured all five simultaneously and slowly enough that no foam frothed over. Next, she set the bottles down and in a final motion, spread the five glasses, three with one hand and the others with her second, so each of us had a full glass in front of us.

That’s not exactly high stagecraft, but it was better entertainment than we were used to for the price of a beer. I bet she got good tips. She did from us.

Hoot.

That Nest and those days are gone. There’s a state liquor store on Main Street/Route 50 in Romney. You can get a mixed drink as well as milder stuff at restaurants throughout the county. The grimy glamour was more remarkable.

My-Hand-To-Your-Mouth Syndrome

November 27th, 2011

mymableMy wife and I each had grandmothers Mable. My version was le chef redoutable, or as she didn’t speak French, the formidable cook. She was famous in her family and town and county for her baked goods and her overall kitchen skills.

Moreover, she so strongly identified with her food, there was no separation. She had three children — girl, boy, girl, and taught none of them to cook. They were born in the 1920 and as understandable for the period, her son was expected to marry a cook, not be one. Her daughters were shortchanged in that Mable’s kitchen was just that. On occasion, such as canning and pickle making seasons, you might be pressed into service as a culinary lackey, but it was almost as though you were blindfolded. It was Mable’s hand to your mouth, the magician keeps her secrets.

In many ways, my Mable was my nemesis. She was often severe to a circle of us — her husband, her daughters, her sister, and my sister and me.

Yet we owe her much. Most obviously, physically I got my big feet, absurd chest and shoulders and bone structure from her. Granddad was more delicate, with size 8½ shoes for example.

She was also demanding in the dining and living rooms. We were expected to participate in conversations…and no jive. She wanted fully formed arguments and opinions based on facts.

She also pressed my sister and me into service in the many summers and holidays we boarded there. We regularly cleaned the windows and storms with ammonia and newspapers, subject to her inspection. Likewise, we dusted each newel and stairpost daily, subject to her inspection. She was quick to find fault.

Now of course, an bit of humor is that I exhibit some of her traits. Foremost is that I am the family cook. Although I eagerly teach to wife and children, I have that emotional tie to my kitchen and the pressures and joys of my-hand-to-their-mouths cooking. I’m good with food, know that I am, and enjoy people enjoying what I produce.

Unlike Mable, I have cooked tens of thousands of unique dishes. She lived by her recipe box, which I own. I combine drawing on what I’ve picked up over the years. I know what will taste good together in what quantity. In another sense of the term picked up, I cook by what I pick up from the Haymarket, farmers’ markets, green grocery and supermarkets. My week’s menus generally reflect what’s available at the food sources, including our backyard and side yard gardens.

For a couple of decades, we’ve hosted a Southern Thanksgiving. At least one member of each couple and family has roots in the big arc from Virginia through the Carolina into Arkansas. Generally, I planned the table and cooked nearly everything. It’s an exhausting death march for 15 to 25, but I love it. Slowly over the years though, my wife and the two sons still at home have become cooks too. They’ve caught the pleasing-others-with-food disorder and want to participate.

This year was thus different from most others. While guests often would bring their families’ favorite pies, and occasionally a side dish, this time was edging toward participatory cuisine.

As I recall the low and high living room tables and the dinner table, we served the following in 2011. I likely forgot a few items, but this is the gist, our version of a groaning board. The remarkable aspect is how cooperative this year’s was. Note the parens with initials of various preparers who are not I.

brie en croutem (EB) kasseri various crackers
hummus (EB) jalapeno mustard pita
baba ganoush (EB) sparkling ciders (various fruits) ales
collards (JL) red wines mashed potatoes
beer still cider white wines
turkey red onions filled with vegetarian stuffing cranberry chutney (EB)
cornbread turkey (CT) green beans almondine sauerkraut
stuffed shells (IB) vegetarian and turkey gravies tea
coffee sweet potato pie (JL) pumpkin pie (TC)
cherry pie (CT) Boston cream pie (IB) pecan pie (KC)

Previously, I would work steadily a day or two before and throughout the entire appetizer period up to the moment of the main seating. Not this year. So much was done by others before or in the prep period that I socialized much more. That was definitely something gained and something lost.

Perhaps I’ve matured enough to share.

Those Pine Things

November 11th, 2011

pinetagsStriding down Brush Hill Road yesterday, I thought of the Americanisms related to those dried leaves from pines and many other evergreens. I wasn’t quick enough to photograph the female coyote that trotted fast across the road and into the backyard of one of the Lowe Circle MacMansions. Those aforementioned pine leaves on a rock beside the road weren’t moving though.

My South Carolina born and raised wife is quick to note when I fall back to my West Virginia and Virginia upbringing here. To me, these were and are pine tags. Down in her past parts and up here, these are pine needles often and pine straw sometimes.

As with other terms, spellings and pronunciations we learned from a parent, sibling or beloved fifth-grade teacher, we just know that there are specific correct ways to say them. We can be at our worst when we say a loud accusatory, “I’ve never heard anyone call them that!” That, of course, says more about us than about the other person.

I accept that pine tag is both regional English and less common than pine straw (and far less common than pine needle). Yet, I can’t decide whether my preference for my childhood term is because I’m just routinized or perhaps because it sounds less prosaic.

Regardless, it’s not a term I find in many conversations. Sometimes I catch myself and use the local terms. Other times, I let my past announce itself.

Yellow Flowers by Black Creek

November 10th, 2011

The uxorial unit led the trip to South Carolina. She comforted a recently widowed girlfriend from college days, enjoyed a couple of days with the godmother of one of our sons, and had several days with her elder second cousin. I arrived two days before we drove furniture from her late parents’ house back to Boston.

There were the clichéd and expected, plus a colorful flora surprise.

Thick accents and thicker grits were parts, as were tall biscuits (White Lily flour certainly). Thigh-high cotton fields in full fluff lined the roads. Every town had at least one Piggly Wiggly. Nobody cut off another driver or honked at anyone slow off the traffic light. In fact, slow was just fine. People held doors for each other and said, “Ma’am” and “Sir” without irony or sarcasm.

kalmiayellow

A nice extra was only a quarter of a mile from her cousin’s house in Hartsville. Kalmia Gardens is a combination arboretum with labeled plants and a formal Southern garden and a boardwalk beside the cypress swamp that is Black Creek.

As so many Southern splendors, this is a rich woman playing with her money for visionary pursuits on a local level. In this case, it was not to name it after herself or her husband nor to restrict it. She gave the resulting property to Coker College, which was named for her wealthy family. She fixed up the neglected, trash heap of land (rather paid people to do that), designed the walks, plantings and more.

It has been open and free to the public since 1935.

Coming down from Boston after our slush fest on top of our usual brown fall, I was pleased to see so many plants still in bloom. Amusingly, the specimen sugar maple has yet to turn color, while ours are long defoliated. My snaps from the walk around are here.

My wife’s cousin has not been down to Black Creek, although she did host an engagement dinner on the grounds above. It is 94 steps down to the uneven boardwalk…and 94 steps back up, unless you lie down and die. We thought it was worth the stairs.