Archive for the ‘Southern’ Category

Old coots, chaws and vegetable display

November 19th, 2016

The farmers’ co-op in Romney WV was integral to my childhood. It had been moribund, then closed after long-time manager Fred Judd had a dreadful fall from which he never really recovered.

Just this week, it’s reopening in a form I would not have recognized. It is now the Hampshire County Co-op & Market Place. It offers local artists’ work and fancy food. The promo on the town FB page includes, “PS: Eric Hott’s smoked bacon pieces dipped in dark chocolate will change your life forever!”

That’s not the way I knew it.

Next door to the co-op on South Marsham Street was my grandfather’s tailor/dry cleaning shop. Abutting that was the family house where I spent summers and holidays. For a peripatetic  lad and his sister, that town and that specific street were home. We moved every couple of years but Marsham Street was always there for us.

We could sit on the front porch (and did often) watching as rain storms sheeted down the mountains before us, first wetting the apple and peach orchards.

Two doors down was a playground inside the co-op. The manager, Carl, let us play. In the big room by the entrance were bins of seed. If a farmer or gardener needed just a few pounds of corn to plant, he could fill a bag using a tin ladle and weigh it out. Likewise, you could get 16-penny spikes loose.

We kids were fascinated with the offerings. We’d also bury a toy in the seeds and challenge each other in a primitive hide-and-seek.

For the big games, the warehouse was filled with 50- and 100-pound bags of seed, feed, flour and such. We’d hide, chase each other and play battle with pea shooters.

Back in the front was a pot-bellied stove, replete with one to six old men. Several were excellent at sitting on nail kegs across from the stove and accurately spitting a big drop maybe 10 feet into the teardrop openings of the stove grate.

They’d tell true tales or maybe lies about their farms and WWI times and such. Highlights included remarkable vegetables they grew, like a 14-inch long bean pods. As I recall McCaslan was the usual champion bean.

I loved the stories and characters who told them. The co-op was a social club for them and me.

Next time I’m in town, I’ll surely visit the artisinal food and art version. I am pretty sure there’ll  be no stove glowing red and certainly tno tobacco-spitting performances.

 

Hear Hair Talking

March 26th, 2016

I parrothairyadmit that I am one of the millions (or more) who snicker at Donald Trump’s hair weave or whatever artifice crawls around his skull. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed the parrot tulips pending outside and potted on the dining table. I’m simple enough to be amused at the idea that he could take one of my images, like the adjacent one, to his hairstylists. He could say, “Do me!”

I think if he’s going with the orange skin and hair-like-objects theme, he should display some panache.

This is a derivative theme for me. In the early 1980s, a friend and godmother of  one of our sons introduced the concept the phrase.

She is the artist who called herself Savannah, in lieu of her more painfully Southern name, Marion Francis Talmadge Etheredge. More painful was her nasty divorce. Throttled and dumped on by hubby, a few older relatives on her own side, and one of her daughters, she was poor and poorly, angry and alert.

Tall, blonde and striking, she outdid herself when she visited us. We’d moved to Boston with our first boy and she remained in our mutually beloved Manhattan. When she arrived, Boston was not ready for her in the early 1980s. She wore a black body suit and sported three colors of short hair. The not-too-worldly locals literally stopped and gawked.

She spoke about her appearance (we thought she looked great and powerful). She said after the terrible divorce proceedings she went to her SoHo stylist ripe for a real change and statement. She just told her, “Fix me!”

In this temporal reality, Trump is all bluster and theater. Does he have that much nerve?

 

Of fish and tools

February 21st, 2016

codeyeI finally broke down and bought a decent filleting knife. Now I’ll lug home whole fish more regularly.

As the main cook around here, I of course have a thing for knives. I believe in good ones, for example, the large carbon-steel French chef’s one I’ve used for over 40 years. I bought that with the advice of my friend Paula Delancey. She was a student at the CIA in Hyde Park NY and on the way to becoming the first woman to graduate at the head of her class there. She already knew knives. Thus it is amusing that I delayed springing for a good fillet knife, even if I would use it rarely.

Elder buddies

I remember my first fish filleting forays. Apparently some of my local fishing trips around Romney, West Virginia, were mildly amusing to family. In particular, when I would go sit on the bank of the South Branch of the Potomac with Rumsey Oates.

We were related by marriage. He was the father of the man who married my maternal grandmother’s younger sister. Discounting the by-marriage and removed qualifiers, he would have been my great-great uncle. I was a kid and he was in his mid and late seventies.

My mother said some people would try to tease him about his wee fishing buddy. He would tell them I was the best type — I had a lot of patience and didn’t talk much. We could sit by the river for hours. Sometimes we pulled in sunnies or perch. When luck was with us, it was trout and bass.

I enjoyed his quiet company too. The 60 to 70 year age difference seemed unremarkable to me. We got along.

I suppose it was my mother’s doing, along with her parents. She ran Red Cross chapters, which were filled with aged volunteers. Most of them insisted that I call them by their first name and treat them like peers. Likewise, my grandparents had mostly friends who were 50 or more years older than I, who also treated me as an well-mannered equal. I lived the school year with my mother and summers with her parents. I knew more old people than kids my age.

Scaling, gutting, filleting

Many fish aren’t that bad to prepare. Those little ones remained pretty bony though. The fat trout and small-mouth bass were much easier. The spine often lifted out with most of the bones still attached. Then slicing out a decent fillet on each side was something even a kid could do, assuming he had a decent knife.

That past revisited recently as my wife subscribed to Cape Ann fish shares, choosing the whole-fish options. Haddock and pollack were pretty easy to deal with; they were thick and my existing knives were OK. So were the two very large flounders one week. Another share though was seven very thin flounders. They were impossible to cut a real fillet from. I did accept that if I had a serious filleting knife I would have done a little better.

Now I’ve tipped over. I bought the good knife. It arrived a day after I had successfully butchered the two pollack, but I’m ready.

Fish stores and the Haymarket have a good range of whole fish. I’m armed.

 

 

Boo for Holiday Booze

December 24th, 2015

mymable“Oh no, Bill, not the boys!”

My grandmother, Mable Michael, had particular, peculiar, nearly miracle hearing. Let’s go with selective. She didn’t respond to all that much and seemed to lose the lower tones as so many older women do. And yet…

I recall a specific Christmas holiday in my college days in her home in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia. Several of my friends from the area has joined me in her living room, filling the couch and chairs.

She had a clear relationship with alcohol, as in it was sinful, shameful and to be avoided. She was like a Jew who speaks of alcoholism as the shegetz disease, without the quirk of ignoring Jewish vintners or the dominance of Jews in the whiskey distilling trade.

Her hypocrisy was baser and plainer. Her husband (my beloved grandfather) might have two 3.2% beers (all that was legal in West Virginia) and he was on the road to hell. Yet, we all knew we had to bear our version of frankincense each Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas in form of Mogan Davis blackberry wine.

We never saw it. We never saw her or anyone drinking it. By the end of the vacation, somehow the bottles disappeared (and were concealed in bags or more in the trash). She arose about 5 every morning to spend time with The Upper Room devotional, her Bible, and likely a glass of the star of David.

I never saw my grandfather tipsy. Well, maybe once. He took my sister and me to the Burlington drive-in movie and tossed back a 3.2 or two. As we were leaving, he drove off with the speaker still attached to the front passenger window and the cord snapped. High or impatient? We’ll never know.

Anyway, he was no sot and no one ever likely got drunk on 3.2 beer. You’d pee yourself into fatigue first.

That particuar Christmas eve, we were in the living room. She as usual was laboring in the kitchen for her planned massive Christmas Day family feast. After all, her beloved only son would arrive with his brood of four, plus wife.

The ambient noise level was high. The TV was on, as they always were in the 1960s. Hell, they still are (why is that, writes the non-TV watcher?). Granddad came to me in the distant corner armchair. He bent down to my right ear (farthest from the kitchen and his vigilant wife) and whispered so I could barely make it out, “Would you and the boys like a little nog?”

In West Viginia terms of the time, that of course meant some store-bought sugary eggnog from a carton with a small splash of bourbon. I attended the University of Sourh Carolina, where bourbon was a sacrament and such splashes were better suited as aftershave than refreshment. Still it was a host-worthy query.

Immediately from the kitchen — how the hell could she even have the faintest sense of the query — Mable immediately bellowed, “Oh no, Bill, not the boys!”

To this day, I wonder whether she sussed the concept or exhibited some canine-level superpower. Though everyone in the living room was of legal drinking age, she’d have none of it.

Even then we laughed.

 

 

Burned bucks

July 29th, 2015

BURNTBUCKYesterday, crossing the Slattery bridge over Boston’s Fairmount train line, I noticed this burned U.S. dollar on the sidewalk. Who knows the trivial tale here?

While my first thought was that some young person was showing off lighting a blunt. Yet, as the bill seemed to have been lit in the middle, that’s not likely.

Instead, perhaps someone who’d been drinking or was otherwise high decided it would be fun and funny to burn currency.

Regardless, it brought me to a flashback to a post here five years ago. That deserves a reprise.



abecentSkipping pennies was and remains a teen amusement. Yet when I was in high school a dear friend a little older than my mother wove an entirely different tapestry and forever changed my mind.

She was Evelyn Justice, my biscuit lady. We had known each other from my elementary-school days in Danville, Virginia. She worked for the dentist we used and became a family friend. She was surely the kindest and happiest person I have ever known. We were sad when she and her husband moved to Plainfield, New Jersey.

Jump to high school and my mother moved us to that same city. There, I would walk across a broad park and a few more blocks to her house. She was a master biscuit maker (look and feel; no measuring) and glad to oblige me.

One afternoon though, Evelyn was still upset from what she had experienced walking home. She had been just behind three guys from school — my school. They gouged pennies from their jeans and with one in hand, they took turns skipping it along the sidewalk.

She was aghast and transported to earlier times and distant places. She had grown up in a tiny town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The region, including her family, was among the hardest of the hardscrabble during the Great Depression. Few had much and no one had anything to spare.

To Evelyn, one U.S. cent, one one-hundredth of a dollar, was real money. A few pennies could make the difference of the family eating OK that week. Every cent was precious. The family coin jar was a shrine.

In Plainfield, nearly four decades later, she was riven by the puerile pleasures of those young men. A penny by itself didn’t count for much to them, so little in fact that they could use them as disposable toys. Those guys did not share in family fears of want and deprivation. They did not save, remake, repair and conserve.

She said that she followed behind them, picking up every penny they threw away. She didn’t care if they thought she was a crazy old lady. She knew what a cent had meant and still meant to her. She didn’t really need a palm of pennies, but she would be damned (a word she never would profane the air with herself) if she would let them literally throw away what had been so powerful to her.

She asked me and I was able to say that I never engaged in skipping pennies. Yet when she asked I realized that it would not have been out of the question for me. I had never been presented with the activity. Plus, I had never been wasteful. I had earned money selling vegetables, being a paperboy, life-guarding, and on and on. I made my own money and quite literally did not throw it on the street.

My mother said that she realized in college that she had been shielded from the Depression. Her father had a full-time job on the B&O Railroad for 48 years, including those when many were unemployed and hopeless. He also grew one or more one-acre vegetable and fruit gardens every summer for fresh and cannable food. He sold Chevys on the side.

He also had a tailor shop and made clothes for the family. That led to a story my mother told on herself. She was always embarrassed to be wearing clothes her father made rather than store-bought dresses, skirts and blouses. She was short but long-waisted and could hardly wait to be fashionable when she was away from home. She rushed with her spending money to buy off the rack and was flabbergasted. Nothing fit. She had lived her life in tailored clothes!

Even so, like many of the WWII generation, raised by those who navigated the Depression for their families, my mother carried that mindset. She taught us as she had been thought — respect objects, whether they be food, clothes or pennies.

So in Plainfield, Evelyn had me tearing up with her. Her tales of how a few pennies might mean subsistence or the rarest of the rare, a treat, brought me beyond my frugality. In our nation of plenty, even in these hard times, we toss much, thinking nothing of what it means to those who have nothing or what it might have meant to other Americans.

You’ll never catch me skipping pennies. That’s a lesson that went from Evelyn to me to my three sons and now to you.

Last Flap of Confederacy

July 6th, 2015

To me in elementary and junior high schools, it was my beloved library. To Civil War buffs, it is the site of the last capital of the Confederacy. To Danville, Virginia’s simultaneous pride and shame, the CSA headquarters for its final 13 days was in the mansion of William T. Sutherlin.Danvillelibrary

(Oddment: Sutherlin was not a real military officer, despite a rank of major in the Confederate army. He was too sickly to fight, but he was a wealthy and influential resident given that rank as nominal quartermaster of the city for the war.)

How do you suppose the locals are taking the CSA/Confederate battle flag controversies? As you might expect, as shown in this piece in the city paper, the Register and Bee, here.

Be sure to read the snarling leave-it-like-it-always-has-been comments from readers. The more measured gist of the article is that city officials checked with state ones to find that Danville has no authority to remove the flag without a change to state law.

The mansion was a gift to the city, became its library, and when a new library went up, the building became a Civil War museum owned by the city and run by a non-profit. With all the changes came a new flag pole that the city designated as a memorial to Civil War veterans. Per this commonwealth law, officials can’t remove veterans’ memorials.  ThinkProgress covers the whole mess well here.

Stars and Bars worshipers say if the law doesn’t change, the flag stays up. Others are not convinced and hold that the base and pole may be the monument, but the flag itself is run up and maintained by a private group and is not covered.

Blah, blah. They’ll resolve this, but it certainly is more difficult than it should be.

 

Mysteries of gym locker doors

July 1st, 2015
open gym locker

open gym locker

Two flavors of locker jerks:

  1. Door slammers
  2. Don’t close the door types

At my local Y, about one in three men are one of those two.  At another Boston Y we used to go to, there is a third variety. There, they hand out one small towel per visit. About half the men toss their wet towel near but not in the hamper by the exit door, on the floor, or on a bench.

From my Southern background, I have to wonder who their people are. That is, how were these guys raised that such inconsideration is automatic?

Ridge runner philosophy

I often refer to drugstore psychology. It could ask easily be called lunch counter or barstool instead of drugstore.

For me though, as a youth, I philosophized often in the Romney Rexall drugstore in the small West Virginia town where I spent summers and holidays. Other local sages of various ages did too.

The drug store had a big magazine rack with window seating, a stand-up area near the coffee equipment, and maybe six round glass top tables with cafe chairs between the front and the pharmacy area. The tables each had a locking door under the top, which let employees put impulse-purchase goods, like eyeshadow or hair brushes, on display. It seemed to be good promotion, as girls would have their lime rickeys and buy cosmetics on the way out.

For my friends and me though, the magazine rack was it. We could clearly see and sneak peeks at comics and more sensational fare, like True Detective magazine.

Each group of philosophers solved various problems and mysteries in their own corners.

Locker logic

On occasion, I have said something to the locker slammers, like “Wow, that’s really loud.” I don’t expect that will change their behavior any more than their seeing me quietly close my locker will.

I do often wonder though if they are aware of what they are doing and whether there’s anything other than emotion behind their slamming lockers or leaving them open. For slammers, they are going to trouble to make a display and make noise. They are aware they are startling and annoying others…and don’t seem to care. Those who leave the doors open may be smart enough to know they are leaving sharp edges that can hurt the unalert. At the least, they have to know that someone more considerate and polite will have to close the doors they leave open.

My drugstore psychology has it for each:

Slammers — Simple male insecurity here. My wife verifies that she has never seen or heard a woman slam a locker door. On the men’s side, men often make big movements and loud displays as though they consider those manly. They’ll grunt and bellow when lifting even light weights. Some will make huge noises when tying shoes, like they were delivering a child. Some plop down on benches or chairs with loud exhalation, regardless of how it affects others nearby. They need attention and feign strain from the most ordinary activities. I figure they came from fathers and brothers who also had to prove their manliness with silly displays. Poor them, locked in a cycle of melodrama.

Open Door Types — I peg these as momma’s boys. Their mommies closed their doors and drawers for them. Their mommies picked up their socks and underpants and towels. Likely their wives do that now, as they’d marry someone very much like mommy. They leave the doors open because growing up they found that nothing was too good for mommy’s best boy. He didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want. It’s only right that someone else should clean up after them. They are special. Yawn.

There’s still a drugstore on Main Street in Romney, but it’s a Rite Aid and in a different place. The Rexall is gone. Philosophizing likely takes place in the cafes and little restaurants. Folk wisdom abides.

Pic note: Published under Creative Commons with attribution to middleagedmormon.com. I also enhanced the contrast and cropped the original.

Creeping toward humanness

March 7th, 2015

I’m with Uncle Joe Biden on one of the craziest, dumbest Republicans. The Veep ridiculed Ben Carson’s inane gay bashing, noting the widespread disdain for the lunacy.

Carson has proclaimed he intends to win the GOP nomination for POTUS next year. More to the point, he is yet another proof that expertise in one area (he is a physician) means nothing beyond that. He went on and on about homosexuality being a total choice with his alleged evidence being that straight men are raped in prison, hence choosing to change.

From the MSNBC reportage:

But Biden on Friday was not sure how to respond. “Every ridiculous assertion from Dr. Carson on — I mean Jesus, God,” he said. “Oh God. I mean, it’s kind of hard to fathom, isn’t it?”

Still, the vice president pointed to the “universal ridicule” Carson suffered as evidence of progress for LGBT rights. “That wouldn’t have happened two years ago, five years ago,” he said.

And that is exactly it. Unlike Carson’s perverted fantasy, such advancement is observable, palpable proof that we can and do improve as a species.

I recall the moment I first became keenly aware and thus hopeful of such growth. It was in the Yankee in Beaufort, South Carolina in the mid-1970s. It was a dive, a beer and burger joint, but very Low Country. Three middle-aged guys  I didn’t know by name were about 10 feet away at the angle of the bar at lunchtime. One of them fell down the at-home well and ranted briefly about black folk, using the N word twice.

I wasn’t ready for the immediate response of his two buddies. They told him quickly and firmly that was not cool and they didn’t want to hear it. They guy was chastened and behaved himself afterward. I am pretty sure that he ws likely to behave himself with them and maybe others going forward.

That is both evidence that we can advance as a species and the method to advance that process. Do not let the crazies and the bigots slide. You don’t have to be pious and obnoxious about it. You do have to be quick and sure. Tell the bigot what’s wrong and look directly at him. It works the miracle of conversion to humanness.

Of course, the other thing is not to pretend it doesn’t happen in Yankeeland or the Wet Coast. Bigots and buffoons don’t respect geography.

 

 

Team Turkey Day v. My Kitchen

November 28th, 2014

mymableWe had family and friends, close and far and very far this week for turkey goose day. In addition so many of us (almost all with Southern roots) have been assembling for over 20 years for the instant-to-concrete tribe, I love how it’s become a blood group effort.

Growing up, I knew different, as did my wife. Both her mother and my maternal grandmother, Mable or as named by my older sister Baba, identified strongly as THE family cook. Her hand to your mouth. You could set up, clean up and otherwise perform only narrowly defined tasks for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter feasts. Her kitchen…

Mable was a fine cook, really a chef and baker. I should never complain. Yet both my mother and later my wife did. Their mothers did not let them prepare meals, much less pass along the great folk art and magic of sustenance, of sacred sacrifice on the familial altar.

A few years after my parents married in Fort Sill, they headed to Japan with their two tots as part of the Occupation Army. A few years after that, they returned to Fort Sill and accepting they married blind, they divorced.

While we were in Japan, numerous servants tended to us. They adored the two blond kids, me particularly as the boy. They also cooked for us.

After the divorce when my mother began raising us solo, the full impact of knowing squat about food was all too obvious to her. Her mother fed her, then her college cafeteria, then the Army, then servants. Then what?

So this is a plea. If you are the family cook, teach your kids and if necessary your spouse. You might go away, they might go away, you might get run over by a careering armored truck.

This Thanksgiving, I did prepare most of the overly abundant carte. That would be the likes of goose with cracked peppercorns, cruditiés with four dips, roasted yams with orange, port wine cranberry chutney, wild and jasmine rice, key lime pie and on and on. I get in a groove.

However, the full-time family residents did their do. My uxorial unit is a great pastry baker. She made a highly decorative and delicious tart-cherry pie and a huge plate of deviled eggs. Son 2 made saffron ice cream and brie en croute. Son 3 did an extremely popular stuffed shells with from-scratch tomato sauce.

And so it went…

I likely could have made every dish. In fact, I held off on several I had in mind to make. We were already in overkill. Plus, various guests showed with nosh offerings, wines, ciders, and of course, their own pies — pecan, buttermilk and sweet potato. Our Thanksgiving clan has a real pie jones.

It’s nice….it’s better…t’s great…when everyone feels and exhibits ownership of the life and pleasure giving role. It’s a boat that everyone helps steer, When you arrive, you are happy for the journey.

Give thanks.

 

Die or Grow Beyond Fear

September 2nd, 2014

swimLake, ocean, pool or river can be inviting, calming or terrifying. For the latter camp, a solid NYT piece with vid of an man who just had to get over his wet anxiety brought back pubescent times.

First know I’m a water guy, as in:

  • My water-safety instructor (WSI) mother taught me to swim in the South Branch of the Potomac at Romney WV
  • My sister and I became instructors and lifeguards
  • I coached a summer swim team two years
  • I was on my high school, then freshman college swim team
  • I got all the Boy Scout aquatics merit badges
  • I swam at beaches from Florida (yucky hot) to Maine (my God! cold) and lakes all over

Water is my buddy. I meditate while swimming several times each week and I never feel as graceful as in the water.

Yet I was surprised at 12 or just 13 to have the head swimming teacher at a man-made lake in Virginia ask for help. My sister and I were taking life-saving classes and killing time afterward swimming and diving. We would wait until our mother, who ran the local Red Cross chapter, to come by and drive us home.

Turns out the teacher had a lot more in mind that just getting me to help her. What she really wanted and cannily figured out was that I could teach some gray hairs to swim.

Had she put it like that I’m pretty sure I would have said I wasn’t able. In no small part both the times and central Virginia locale made that unlikely. I was a Ma’am and Sir, respect-elders boy. It would seem to betray the natural order for a kid to teach maybe 8 folk in the 60s and 70s anything.

Yet, the teacher knew my mother, sister and me. She knew that many of the Red Cross volunteers aged up to 80 or so had me call them by their first names from when I was 6 or 7. Yes, I was polite and attentive, had a large vocabulary and never ever would have called them by another other than Mr.., Miss or Mrs. (last name) unless they insisted. They did.

I was also a water prize, getting my advanced-swimmer card young. I was my mother’s son. So maybe it wasn’t so crazy to ask me to help.

I didn’t know any of the 8 or so men and women in my instant class. In retrospect I guess the median age was 72. The teacher introduced us and said I’d show them how to get used to the water. Then she left.

Well, I was a sincere little boy and that’s just what I did. I’d bet they were both charmed a lad their grandchildren’s age was in charge and comfortable that if I could do this water stuff they had a shot.

I was in for my own shock when they told me, almost to a one, that they were afraid to put their faces in the water. They never had in the 70-some years. They were born at the very end of the 19th or very beginning of the 20th Century. Shower baths were rare. they would bath in a tub but never do as I was used to — shampooing and plunging my whole head underwater repeatedly while rinsing, repeating. They said they wet washcloths and used them on their faces.

That was not a chapter in the WSI manuals at home and in the chapter buildings. I read those on the sofa or on the toilet. When I went into a new level of swimming class I already knew what we were supposed to do and generally had already mastered it on my own. Yet, afraid of water? Never put your face in water in your entire life?

Well, it turns out the clever teacher had it right. My job was to teach this group to be okay in the water. By then it never seemed possible to do less and maybe a lot more. The students were certainly willing.  I got them bobbing, splashing water on their heads and faces as they stood in thigh-high water, and eventually putting their faces down in water while keeping control by blowing air through their noses. We went on as I had learned in my first few levels of classes to back floating, front floating, using a kickboard and basic rhythmic breathing. We did dog-paddling and backstroke.

I didn’t have time to teach them how to swim, as in how I swam. They let me know how far we had come though. At the end of one class, they told me together that they felt they had learned to fly. They had been afraid of water their whole lives and now were able to float, to do basic strokes, and to breathe out with their faces in the water was mastering a whole new element, just water instead of air.

Since then, I’ve taught photography, writing, various aspects of computer use, and management. Apparently I’m good at doing that, but never since that lake have my students compared what they learned to mastering a whole new element. When students and teachers are in it together, there is elegance, beauty and fulfillment. That class is still my touchstone for a splendid job.

I hadn’t thought of those happy moments in a long time, until the NYT piece. I was with Attis Clopton all along. That’s the thrill of learning at its best.