Southern Way

Southern Way

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Loulou is Two

My Daddy famously said, "If I had known grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first." No doubt one of the most excited moments I remembered about my father was telling him he was going to be a grandfather. And to "Sweeten the pie" ( another Docism) the baby was due on his birthday. Well as it turned out our oldest daughter arrived at 4:30 am the morning after Daddy's birthday. No doubt he would never have forgiven me except for the fact that her birth trumped everything and the rest of us.

Oh how he doted on her. When he went to pick her up from day care and found they would not let him take her because he did not have a car seat - not an issue, within an hour he had a car seat. Together they were tootling around in his 65 Oldsmobile Cutless convertible with the top down no less. They were quite the sight.

By this time Mom and Dad had gone through their rather unpleasant separation. His apartment was not the bachelor pad. No, walking in it one would think Hasbro and Mattel had exploded - toys were everywhere. He would keep our daughter any time for as long as we would let him. Dirty diapers - not an issue. A sick child - no problem. It was his granddaughter, she was perfect and could do no wrong.

My DH and I laughed at him. We were very appreciative of his help, happy to have him spending time with her, but a little surprised that he wrapped his world as tightly around her as she had him wrapped around her little finger.

Then 29 years later we found ourselves smitten by a special little girl who, in our eyes, is the smartest, prettiest, and most precocious child ever. (Now those qualities have been matched by her little sister who arrived 7 weeks ago- but I digress.) And, once again I will say my Daddy was right , Grandchild are just that - grand!

So to little Loulou, these two years have been magical to us as we have watched you grow. You have opened an echanted world of wonder we forgot about. Suddenly everything is better while sitting on the floor, re-reading books is a favorite past time, having conversations with "Pupup" and "Hop", and Mom really doesn't need know everything. Happy Birthday Loulou, you have made our world so much better.    

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Back to the Future Without an E-Ticket

39 years ago, in the summer of 1977, I had the privilege of traveling around Europe with a good friend of mine. 

My father believed that my brother deserved a larger allowance and a new car given he would be dating and he would need the resources. While I was on a reduced allowance and drove a used AMC Gremlin because, after all in his mind - I would be dating and therefore, someone else would be paying for my dining and entertainment. Ah, but the days of southern chivalry were long gone before the 70's. However trying to explain that to my father was hopeless. Ironically he did not think twice about funding a trip to Europe. That, he saw (thankfully) as an experience everyone could learn from. But, I digress.

We set off from Lyon (after a Maymester class in France) armed with our Eurail Pass. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with a Eurail Pass, in those days this was the equivalent to a Disney E-ticket. (Showing my age, the original "E-ticket" was the ultimate ride ticket at Disney world on a scale that started with "A" - being the Mad Hatter Tea Cups to "E" that got you on Space  Mountain.) This magical pass allowed one to travel first class on any train, anywhere in Europe. And, at that time, the price for the pass was very reasonable. Better yet, unlike the US, most of Europe is accessible by train.

The trains were mostly new, well run, comfortable, reliable, fast, and always on time. Our pass not only gave us First Class seats but if we were on a night train, we had access to sleeper accommodations (that afforded us breakfast service of tea, jam, and croissants served in our "room"). This came in handy when we were unable to find a place to stay (due to lack of suitable or affordable hotels). If all else failed, we could take an overnight train to Amsterdam, usually the furthermost destination from wherever we found ourselves. Then the next morning we would take a short train ride to another destination we had yet to visit.

All this reminiscence comes forward to America's train service, or lack there of today. Amtrak has struggled for years to break even and serve the country. My experience a week ago was an example. Where as in Europe, there is a train system from small towns to the major cities that crisscrosses the continent, in the States a few lines go up the Eastern Seaboard, across the country east to west, and up and down the west coast. Only the northeast has a decent train system, but even that is lacking.

Notification that our train was delayed was made in red pen on a small white board propped up at the ticket window. Unfortunately that notification was updated often given the delay ended up being almost 90 minutes. I will admit that Amtrak has a text messaging system that notifies passengers who had registered their cell phone numbers of the delays - however it lags behind the white board.

Instead of having a ticket with a seat number and designation as you board the train, your paper or phone is swiped electronically - new age! Then your seat is assigned (is some mysterious system) by an Amtrak employee crossing your name off a piece of paper  as you step on the train. After you are seated (in your assigned seat) another employee comes and sticks a torn piece of paper with your destination handwritten on the luggage rack above your row. (Something akin to "Paddington" pinned to the Bear).

No doubt as one makes their way up the north east corridor and boards the Acela (the high speed upscale train that runs from Boston to DC) they will find themselves on board a modern train, that travels at high speeds offering amenities and comforts professional travelers expect. Customers can enjoy the Acela Cafe with fresh salads and craft beers. So I can say in this case after 39 years we have gone back to the future. 

Comparing my experience riding the train last week, as pleasant as it was, to the many train rides I enjoyed across Europe in 1977, I may as well have been  running through a pillar at King's Cross Station in London to find Platform 9¾ and catch the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade Station. It was hard to fathom that this was a mode of transportation, a quasi-government funded entity, of one of the most powerful nations in the world. 

Yes, we can send a man to the moon, develop nano technology (that only Michael Crichton can explain in his novel "Prey"),  design phones that are smarter than their users, yet we cannot make our trains run on time. Where is that DeLorean when we need it?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fried Chicken and a Friendly Face

You know you are in the south when after settling into your seat on a north bound train the older lady sitting next to pulls out her supper of fried chicken, deviled eggs, and a jar of tea. Naturally she offered to share. I was surprised she did not have a linen napkin, but to be practical, it may have gotten wrinkled in transport.

She explained that she was on her way to Virginia Beach to meet her "girl friends" for their annual long weekend. They had made this trip for years. Given she was in her late sixties - probably seventies but had aged well - I can only imagine the stories she had to tell. Her gray tightly curled hair was cut short. Her dark complexion showed the beauty of age and her brown eyes sparkled with youth. When she finally finished her supper, she carefully wiped her hands, wrapped up all the remains and trash into her Tupperware container and stored it in her travel bag that she had under her feet.

She could tell I was having an issue with the foot rest on the back of the seat in front on me. "Oh, honey," she said with a smile,"Just touch this lever." She pointed with her toe, "And push." I thanked her.

She just smiled, "I've been riding the trains for years." She went on to talk about how this particular train named "The Palmetto", which on its way up the Eastern Seaboard ran through South Carolina at night, was notoriously late. "And don't ask me why," she said in her soft southern lilt. "Makes no sense to me. The other trains are on time, why this one never is beats me."

We talked about children and grandchildren, travel, and life in general. I took the opportunity to ask her about the train, her travel experiences, and other trains that run up and down the Eastern Seaboard. As we sped past stations in the night, she commented that usually the train would stop but there must not be any passengers scheduled to get off or board, and the train was trying to make up time.

We spoke quietly as most of the other passengers were sleeping on the dark train. Soon we both dozed off. I awoke when I heard the announcement that we were leaving Petersburg and the next station would be Richmond. 

As I stepped off the train in Richmond, I found myself on a long platform between a northbound and a southbound train that happened to be in the station at the same time. There was no sign of the station nor sign pointing the way to such. My seatmate, who was walking in front of me, turned and politely said, "We go this way." I was glad she was there to guide me because I would have most likely walked the other way and God only knows where I would have ended up.

I was surprised how long the train was as we walked the platform beside it. Finally we came to the end and could cross the tracks to find the elusive station. She smiled and as if she could read my mind and said, "If you checked your luggage, you will find it out in front of the station."

I thanked her and told her how much I enjoyed meeting her. She wished me well and walked spritely into the station. I only hope I can age like that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Away on the Silver Meteor

Always being the adventurous (aka foolish) one, I decided to take the train to Richmond last week. The idea being not only was it less expensive than flying, but I could save a day. If I took the overnight train on Wednesday, I would have Thursday with my friends versus spending Thursday fighting the traffic on I-95. And, I had no desire to drive by myself all night Wednesday on I-95. 

The reviews on Amtrak have been mixed at best. But, I’m always willing to give something at least one shot.  That “willing to give something at least one shot” was seriously questioned when I entered the train station in Charleston. Crossing the threshold put me into the 1960’s and I am not talking about anything nostalgic. It was old (and not in a Charleston way), it was derelict, and depressing. It was hard to tell if some of the people there were waiting for trains that never came or if they simply lived there.

On the wall was an architectural rendering of the “New” structure that (I assumed) was planned to replace the current one. I noticed there were no dates of when the drawing was done, when the construction was to begin, or if this was just a pipe dream. I will say the employees were friendly and most helpful. Of course when I checked my bags I was told that my train was running 20 minutes late - something to do with a switch problem in Florida. Suddenly the words "mixed at best" and "Amtrak" usually being linked together in any given description ran through my mind.

A well to do couple walked in and I thought the lady was not going to make it to the ticket window. I could tell she was reaching into her Gucci bag for her anti-germ wipes. (I expected her to pull a medical mask and can of Lysol out at any minute.) Watching her was at least entertaining. I so wanted to tell her that I doubted anyone here had anything communicable, Ebola was under control and, contrary to the her first impression, she had not been transported to a station in India filled with untouchables. Her husband seemed nonplussed. As he took a seat, she insisted on standing.

Long story short, my 9:17 train arrived at the station around 10:50. Unlike airports, train depots (at least ones in the south) do not have bars offering the comfort of adult beverages, which is unfortunate. We boarded, found our seats, and were off. 

The seats on the train are nicer than those I have had on any recent plane trip. They are probably 50% wider. There is enough leg room in front of each seat to put a small carry on on the floor and still have room for your feet and to stand and easily reach the aisle without crawling over your seat mate. The seats recline far back and there is an extension that one can raise from beneath the front of the seat to support your legs - making it fairly comfortable to sleep.

Best part - when the patron in the seat in front of you decides to recline their seat, it is hardly noticeable. Electrical outlets are available at every seat. And, yes, this is coach.

 I did notice with each stop as we moved north, the quality and class of the patrons improved. It wasn’t like I had problems with anyone I was traveling with. Everyone was friendly and very polite. By the time we reached Richmond it was day break and there was a lovely sun rise in the east. The station was clean and more of what I imagined a train station to be – unlike the one in Charleston that I found reminiscent to a Grey Hound Station in a back woods town in Alabama. I felt as if I had emerged from the underworld and had crossed the river Styx. 

For $77 dollars and 7 seven hours (scheduled), I was quite pleased and will definitely consider this again. Having traveled on trains in Europe, we are far behind the curve, but it was much better than I expected. A positive is that there are no TSA security lines. A negative is that there are no TSA security lines. Your ticket includes 2 checked bags. There is a “Lounge” car you can walk to where you can purchase snacks, sandwiches, drinks, beer, and wine. On the longer rides there is a “Dining Car” where sit down “A la cart” meals are served. 

Yes, I will do this again. It sure beats the traffic and stress of I-95. Of course there are more stories to tell.

Friday, July 29, 2016

God's Plan

God blessed the south with many things - good food, friendly people, beautiful land. OK, so the rest of the world questions why we put 4 syllables in the words "hound dog" and are amazed at our chemical wizardry of being able to dissolve 1 pound of sugar in 1 gallon of iced tea.  

Folks not from here find it odd that we continue names for generations (William Pinckney Gadsen, William Pinckney Gadsen, Jr, the third, fourth, etc), but yet call them, Pinky, Bo, Trey, and Bub. It is not unusual for young ladies to have double names: Mary Grace, Sarah Kay, Ann Stuart. And, in the more "remote" regions: Bobby Jean, Billy Sue, Johnny Beth.

Children from good southern families (not necessarily always wealthy) have good manners, respect their elders, know how to dance, understand that socks and collards are best only after the first frost, seersucker suits are acceptable for any occasion before six in the evening, and a string of pearls makes any outfit (except a swimsuit). 

There is no such thing as a "grit", bacon and gravy are staples of the food pyramid, and a good pound cake can cure many ills and make amends for many wrongs. One doesn't make fun of someone who doesn't know how to eat an oyster, wears white shoes after Labor Day, brings store bought potato salad to a church picnic, or wears polyester - they just don't know any better. 

Given all these idiosyncrasies of our culture, we find ourselves under assault by others. Whether they are coming to visit, or God forbid, relocating down here, the Yankees are invading. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting one. But the old man upstairs foresaw this. In his grand plan he had a 3 part strategy in mind for protecting us - no see-ums (gnats), mosquitoes, and August. 

So as we move into the Hades part of our year, fighting the gnats and mosquitoes, I realize it is all God's plan to keep the Yankees away. Unfortunately, it is not working.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fried Chicken - It ain't Broke

Full disclosure, even as southern born and bred as I am, I cannot fry chicken, Now that we have that behind us....

It never ceases to amaze me how folks want to mess up something good. If ain't broke, don't fix it. My theory is that it is like buying a wedding dress - they are all white, when you find one you really like, stop the madness and buy it.  But. I digress.

The Gray Lady (aka The New York Times) has done it again. There was an article in there today entitled "How to Make Good Fried Chicken."  The first sign was "making" fried chicken. My Mama said, "Don't be late for supper, we're having fried chicken." or "I'm frying chicken." My mama never said she was "making" chicken. In my house you could "make" a pie, "make" a cake, or "make" a mess.

First, they got into the chemistry of the dish -how the starch must coat the bird, then oil must be just the right temperature. I got right tickled when they suggested two or three pieces per person would leave you plenty for left overs. At our house there was never any left over fried chicken. Miraculously,  we would find some the next morning in the 'fridge but that was only because Mama, in her great wisdom, would put aside some extra pieces before supper.

Then they went on about "brining" your chicken in a buttermilk, pickle, cola, or cider brine and waiting a few hours. Next, they got into gluten free flours. This is where the the train jumped the track. I never had one of my friends or kin folks drop dead over dosing on gluten from the flour in fried chicken (or anything else for that matter).  They also suggested to cook the chicken outside if you don't want to "mess up" your kitchen.

Why not just call up KFC and order a bucket? By now everyone in your household must be starving. They already have had to wait several hours while you brined your chicken and it is going to get ugly when they realize there is a limit to their servings.

Next, the article went into the "Various flavors" of fried chicken. I never had flavored fried chicken, unless you counted "Burnt" as an alternate taste. Please tell me who as a child came home at dark for supper on a summer night or waited patiently in the food line at the church homecoming dinner or feasted on the comfort food brought by friends and neighbors when a loved one passed away only to find a platter of chicken flavored with Adobo, Korean, Nashville, or Persian spices? I think not. I can only imagine the countenance on the church ladies' faces should someone show up at a bereaved family's home with a platter of Korean flavored fried chicken. That would be worst than having dark meat in their chicken salad.

I stopped reading the article before they went as far as to say they frowned upon eating fried chicken with your hands. Please dear God, say it is not so.

Even though I am cursed and cannot create this simple southern dish, part of the southern trinity together with biscuits and collards, I cannot help but think that Clemmie, my DH's family cook, said it best when she said, "Cook 'til done, season to taste."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Have I Been There and Done That?

On any given nice Saturday morning, I try to get out and walk around the streets of Charleston in search of interesting doors for my "Charleston Door of the Day- Photo" project. Yesterday was no exception. I drove down Meeting, turned right onto George Street. "Today was going to be Ansonborough", I said to myself. I parked in a nice shady place and started down the side walk. I continued east until I came to Anson Street. Then I turned right. Suddenly everything was familiar. I had already photographed this street. The next block was Society Street which I knew I had already done.

I went down to Society, turned right and made my way to Meeting and then back to my car. No problem, I'll go south below Broad on Church. As I drove around I continued to see houses in one block I recognized (because they were very unique), yet in the next were doors I had never seen. Was there any method to my madness.

A month or so ago, I feared I may post the same door twice. So I started organizing the doors in a system that ensured that did not happen, This also helped me make sure when I added new door photos to my collection, I did not add duplicates.

When this project first started I was just walking around and would chose random doors. Then I started photographing all the doors I passed unless they were plain generic and had no character whatsoever. There was no plan. Now that I had a library of so many doors, where did they come from?  I never bothered to list where I had been. Noting the address of each door was way to cumbersome. Suddenly what started as an enjoyable venture was becoming a onerous task. 

After some thought, I realized the only way to corral this project before it spun completely out of control was to map where I had been. Why did I not think about that earlier? This was rhetorical. In my mind the answer: Because it was too obvious. I don't do "obvious" well. But I digress. 

I got a map of Charleston that went from the Murray Boulevard  (South of Broad) to Sunny Side Avenue which bordered the north of the North Central and Wagener Terrace Neighborhoods. Yes, I had photographed doors from one end of the peninsula to the other - randomly, My plan was to take a highlighter, sit down and mark the streets I had covered. And, most importantly, keep up with my trail as I moved along.

Looking at the map, I could mark Society, Anson, George, Tradd . . . Wait, which part of Tradd had I photographed, it was a long street?  And when I was on Church had I turned right and walked down Lamboll? This was not helping. The only solution was to take the map and drive through the streets of the peninsula in the areas I knew I had been and note what I had photographed.

This may take some time. Lesson here, bread crumbs don't work, I should have learned that in kindergarten when Miss Nancy read Little Red Riding Hood to my class. No one told me that not marking trail on the streets of Charleston was akin to loosing your way in the forest. But, then I have had issues seeing the forest for the trees before.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Live Large or Stay on the Porch

A co worker of mine who comes from North of the Mason Dixon line is still getting used to being among-st us. She appreciates southern culture - that of the refined gentile lifestyle, where our tables are set with sterling silver, all the children know their manners, and (most) everyone is friendly and helpful. She was a little taken aback when while walking her dogs one evening she noticed that her neighbors carried glasses of wine while walking their canines (the men carrying bottles of beer).

If that did not set her back, a visit to her hair dresser may have. She goes to an upscale salon on King Street that offers their clientele a glass of white wine during their visit. She saw that as hospitable. It was the gentlemen who walked in carrying highballs of bourbon to get their hair cut, that threw her. (Seems a well known bar is next door and the men would stop there first to pick up a bit of refreshment before coming in for their appointments.)

She asked me if this was the norm or the exception. I explained this was pretty much the norm in Charleston, the southern culture even with its manners, civility, breeding, and good taste, was much more relaxed when it came to our social ways. Basically we enjoy entertaining and having a good time. Not that we approach life with reckless abandon, but we go large or go home. (For example, where else do men think nothing of wearing kelly green ties with pink flamingos on them, bright plaid madras pants, or seersucker suits of any color - in public.)

Then I told her about our girls trip last summer where the five of us commandeered a table by the pool for a week at the small boutique hotel where we were staying in the Keys. We needed it to accommodate our half gallons of vodka and scotch and  cooler of beer, wine, and champagne, as well as the mixers and garnishes. Early every morning we would start with Bloody Marys and Mimosas, move on to beer and by the late afternoon be into the liquor or wine. At the beginning of the week, we were getting odd looks from the other guests. However by mid week, we could tell those looks of mild objection had turned to more than slight envy.

When I  finished my tale I realized the expression on my friend's face indicated she would never look at me in the same light. I'm not sure if my story confirmed what she thought she knew or revealed a side of me that scared her. It was what it was.

Later she asked a gentleman in our office (who is from Pennsylvania), "Do you notice they drink down here a lot?"

The conversation among the three of us continued about the social norms in Charleston and how strong one's constitution had to be to keep up. I made it clear that I was an old dog and knew when it was time to climb back on the porch.

The conversation ended with my comment,"And, we haven't even gotten to football season yet."