My Life a Bit South of Normal

My Life a Bit South of Normal

Friday, February 26, 2010

My Mother

I have often commented about my mother, who I greatly admire. Who else could survive 25 years of proclivity for the bottle that brought about a failed marriage and the fracture of many of the major bones in her body from her unsteady state. Yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, she has put all of that behind her and emerged stronger for all the pain, and has never looked back. And, believe me, all 4 feet 8 inches of her is a force to be reconded with.

She is now the matriarch of her mother's family. (She was the oldest child of my grandmother, who was the oldest of eight siblings.) I think she has started to understand why all the cousins and younger generation visit her when they are in town and it is always important that she attend the family reunions. She is the center of it all, but she takes it in stride. You won't find her holding court. Hell, most of the time, you won't find her home.

But she is the quintessential southern woman. Not the prissy belle who is delicate and enchanting with that southern drawl, who is always prim and proper and would never say the wrong thing or make a disparaging remark about anyone. Who always stands by her man - you know the one (the man) who is always supposed to be there to take care of her. (This is the unfortunate image that somehow has emerged of us.)

No, she is the strong intelligent witty woman, who has loved and lost, who can recite Emily Post (if need be), and has a strong appreciation for her sterling silver. She was raised on a large tobacco farm (as old south as you can get), educated at Wake Forest, has the southern accent (that would get very thick the more she drank), and is a most thoughtful and devoted friend. She is the grandmother who (unbeknownst to the rest of us) called her granddaughter and explained to her, in no uncertain terms, that if she did not show up for her debutante ball, that she (my Mother) would take it personally (a threat my daughter had never heard before.) Needless to say, my daughter was at her Ball.

So when I tell a funny story or show some frustration on my part about my mother, I can assure you it is all in love. I only hope that I do not have to endure the pain and hardships she has in her life. But, should they be thrown my way, I hope I can carry forth, survive, and emerge with the grace and strength she has.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Scents of the South

Scientist say that the sense of smell is our strongest and invokes the most memories. I agree. Southern women love their fragrances, some to an excess. In his Drugstore, Daddy always catered to his female customers with a wide selection of perfumes. Well, looking back on it, they were actually eau' de toilettes or toilet water as my Aunty would say. But in the 1970's, no one else in town had anything fancier.

As I mentioned before, I can remember my Aunt Kat wearing Emeraude  which while never a very expensive "perfume", was still respectful in it's time. My mother's sister, always the sophisticated one, wore Channel No. 5, what else would one expect? But, my mother always wore Jungle Gardenia. How southern could you get? If you have never smelled this scent, think the heavy fragrance of a gardenia bush in full bloom in the early evening on a warm southern night. In other words, it was strong.

Back to Aunty, she always had a running joke with my Dad about Hoyts cologne. Dad would give her a bottle every year for Christmas - it wasn't the easiest fragrance to find, so it was a game for them. When I got older, I learned that Hoyts was an extremely cheap cologne that was favored by gamblers and others of that sort (which would fit my Aunty.) To her credit, I don't think she ever wore it.

Oh, there were other perfumes I would read about in the magazines - Arpege, Rive Gauche (which Mom and Dad actually bought me while on a trip to France), and Chantilly. In the 80's Giorgio of Beverly Hills was introduced and was so God-awefully strong that some resteraunts would have signs politely denying service to anyone wearing the fragrance.

And, then there are the natural scents, the most prominent being the wonderful fragrance of Magnolias that fills the air from late May through June. Nothing can match that intoxicating scent. Other smells that invoke my youth are wisteria (a perfumed aroma that fills the air in early summer), sweet hay from the horse barns, smoke from a cigar, that wonderful smell cured tobacco, freshly mowed grass, jasmine, and the heavy smell of gardenia at night.

Of course, I'm failing to mention other "fragrances" some would associate with the south - such as the exhaust from Taladega, the dusty scent of the infield at Darlington, the hot dog stand at Rockingham, but I can't help you there.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fry It, You'll Like It

Yesterday I noticed a sign outside a restaurant, "Come try our fried pickles". Should I be surprised? No. We fry everything. In fact someone said, "Southerners don't age, they just drop dead". If you look at the list of foods we fry, you would know why. But, we die happy.

Now, I'm not talking about silly things like Snickers candy bars, Twinkie's, Oreo's, or Coca Cola. (Yes, there are folks out there who "fry" Coca Cola. Talk about the ultimate oxymoron - Fried Diet Coke!) I'm talking about real food, meats and vegetables. And, when it comes to frying, we don't stop with chicken, potatoes, or fish, we go to the next level - chicken livers, gizzards (which are actually giblets), chitlins (the viscera intestines of a pig) (Note here: I don't eat all this.), okra, green tomatoes, hush puppies, sweet potatoes, and the list goes on. - alligator, squash, mushrooms. It's going to taste better fried.

And, we like it "deep fried" not just pan fried. Any serious (honest) cook will tell you that the best fried foods are fried in lard, not any kind of healthy oil. We may die early, but by God when we go, we go out happy and having eaten well during our short life span.

The State Fair of Texas fancies itself as the "Fried Food Capitol of Texas". In my mind, it may have been game, set, match when in 2009 they gave the Big Tex Food Award in creativity to a concessioner for "Deep Fried Butter" described as "100% pure butter whipped 'til light and fluffy, then specially sweetened with a choice of several flavors. The tantalizing mixture is surrounded by a special dough and quick fried." I don't think this can be topped as the ultimate fried dish. But then again, in Texas they fry pecan pies.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I just happened upon a new word I was unfamiliar with - "Timewarpians" - people so fascinated with past times they try to recreate them. Well honey, come on down. Some of us "never left the farm." These Timewarpians do this as a way to get in touch with the past, to live the experience. Some say they do it to return to the days of respect and civility. Down here, it's not a hobby or a pastime, it's the way we live every day - in a time warp. But it is not all bad.

Because we are slow, we still remember to say "please" and "thank you". Gentlemen still hold doors open for ladies and children respect their elders. Elbows are not on the table, your napkin is in your lap, and, for the men, their hats are left at the door. I am still eating at dinner tables, where a child will ask "to be excused" before leaving the table, although these are fewer and far between.

We "set" our table every evening for supper when the girls were growing up - we still do for just the two of us now. Proper silverware - a salad fork, if a salad or dessert is being served, a place spoon for soup, butter knives with bread. I didn't realize I was being "green" years ago - we have always used cloth napkins.

And, everyone was expected to sit and eat supper. This brought about natural conversation. We discussed local politics, world events, what was happening in their lives. They learned to find out more details, form an opinion, and be able to defend that opinion if challenged. We even had conversations that were considered "dinner table talk" - that went no further than the dinner table.

Now, it was not all rosy. There were those nights that the girls were snipping at each other, one had aggravated her father, I was mad about something, etc. We all know families are going to fuss and fight. But we still ate supper together almost every night.

As our girls got older they started spending more time at their friends' homes and were introduced to the hustle and bustle of soccer moms and their list of extra curricula activities. My oldest daughter commented one afternoon that one of her friend's family had this brand new dream kitchen they had just built but yet the mother didn't cook and they were never home together to eat. Her friend was working on her college resume, which included her ability to play the violin, play soccer, and cheer. She was an honor student, but if she had to go through an admission's interview, could she discuss politics and world events, or defend a position?

Meanwhile, both our daughters emerged from their time warp with a keen interest in politics and world events, a strong ability to argue their point of view, and the innate knowledge to set a proper table.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Maintaining that Southern Beauty

Now southern girls have a reputation for our good looks. When I was in college, the Phi Mu's from Auburn University were known as world class beauties. And if you can find pictures of them from the late seventies, early eighties you will see that their reputation was justified. My Daddy used to say that there were no women more beautiful than those chosen as the Magnolia Queen and her Court at Wake Forest College.

But maintaining this beauty is not easy, even if you are genetically blessed. Fun in the sun, adult beverages, and the unfortunate inevitability of aging take their toll. But we have a reputation to maintain and the secret is maintaining the beauty and making it look effortless - looking beautiful and making it look natural, not contrived. Some are better at this than others. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, if you have no shame and enough money, anything is possible.

We have one lady in town who, even though she graduated from high school in 1947, she has not a wrinkle on her face. Her complexion is flawless. Now, mind you she relies on her household help to dress her, her husband to drive her, she has problems walking and hearing, but her hair, her jewelry, and her St John suits are always immaculate. She has her priorities straight. Starting when she was in her late thirties, she would take "little vacations" to Atlanta for a week or two every year and come back "refreshed".

I knew my youngest daughter was southern to the core when she would not even think about stepping out the house unless her hair was "done" and her make-up was flawless. If the house ever caught on fire and she was not ready to leave, I would know where to tell the firemen to look for her - in front of her vanity frantically putting on the final touches of eye liner.

My goal is not eternal youth, but to age "gently". I have found a light touch of make-up designed for the more mature lady, together with a decent hairstyle goes a long way. There is no point trying to look thirty years old when you are fifty. Just attempting to evade the reputation of "frumpiness" (as my youngest daughter constantly accuses me of) is a full-time job. And, as I have said before, we can always control our hair color (See Feb 3) . So when they say that fifty is the new thirty, there is hope.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chicken Salad

Who knew Chicken Salad could make or break you? Just a simple dish with a few ingredients can tell everything about you, whether you want it told or not - now everyone knows who you are. And down here it matters. Those books "Chicken Soup for the Soul" don't know anything. Chicken Salad in the south shows your true upbringing. Yes, something so simple, so uncomplicated can truly complicate your life.

I have been at the family home when some one has died and food is being brought in and heard those fateful words (always in hushed tones), "Oh, I had no idea. Look, Jean uses dark meat in her chicken salad." A social fate worse than death. And, then there are those who think they are better than the rest and try to impress. They will hear comments such as, "Mary, are these grapes in your chicken salad?" pregnant pause "I never thought about grapes in chicken salad." Translation being, "No one in God's name would put grapes in their chicken salad." One will hear the same remarks upon the discovery of pecans, almonds, cherries, or cranberries. You just don't mess with it. White meat without question and the only optional ingredients are pickles and there are strong feelings on either side of that debate. However, either way is accepted.

If you are a decent southern woman (or man these days) and were brought up in a "good" family you learned to make chicken salad correctly. It is an unstated art. No one says it has to be done this way. You just understand that there is no reason to do it any other way. Now, truth be said (and I could be burned at the stake for this) there are wonderful recipes utilizing chicken meat, mayonnaise, and foreign ingredients (ie cherries, grapes, various nuts, etc.) that I make and serve regularly. But I can assure you, I would never show up at a family reunion with one of these bastardized dishes or bring one to a grieving family . I may be willing to venture to the dark side but I know when to come home. My Mama reared me better.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Necessary Mess

For some reason, I am a glutton for punishment. When I choose a recipe, do I select one that has 3 or 4 ingredients, uses 1 pan, and takes 30 minutes? Oh no. I have the incredible skill of choosing the most difficult way to use the most peculiar ingredients, utilizing at least one pan per ingredient. And, to add to the insanity, I'll take on 2 or 3 of these recipes at the time.

An example of this was supper last night. Our menu included baked acorn squash, asparagus with mushrooms & shallots, and glazed pork chops. The acorn squash was not a big deal - one main ingredient, several spices.

The asparagus got a little more ambitious. Let's see slice shallots into thin slices and saute until brown and crisp. Add thinly sliced crimini mushrooms. All the while, steam asparagus, for no more than 10 minutes, saving some of the water in reserve. On the other side, mix the topping for the squash.

Now, while I am softening the squash, steaming the asparagus, sauteing the shallots, I start making the glaze. OK, we are now at 2 pots, a saute pan, a baking dish, and a bowl for the glaze. Its time to pull out a 12 inch skillet (for the pork chops).

Score the sides of the pork chops, season and brown. Remove the asparagus from the steamer, saving the water. Add the mushrooms to the shallots. I'll stop boring you now. By the time I am through, I have utilized 2 pots, 3 pans, 1 dish, 3 bowls, God knows, how many measuring spoons & cups, various utensils, prep bowls, and an electronic thermometer.

Is this all necessary? Of course not. But there is something so cathartic in the chaos of cooking, in the balancing act of 2 skillets and a saute pan going on at once, at the sizzle and the steam, and the mess. Yes, the mess is part of it. Show me a cook in a neat kitchen and I'll show you frozen meal boxes in the trash.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Finally Fine French Bread

Like most of us, I was brought up eating plain white Sunbeam bread. We didn't know any better. I didn't even know what Wonder Bread was. (Would my growing brain have been better had I had all those vitamin and nutrients?) When I went to summer camp I was introduced to Bunny Bread, their version of Sunbeam . I came home raving about this fine tasting bread. In hind sight, I think it taste better because I was so hungry. Thinking back on it, it probably taste better because it was always fresh given the number loaves that were delivered daily to the mess hall from the bakery.

Anyway, my point here is that down south, most of us were brought up on plain white bread. It was the foundation for our chicken salad, our egg salad, and our venerated pimento cheese. I can remember being offered wheat bread and almost gagging. Ignorance will delay pleasure so many times.

About eighteen years ago, when I was on a gourmet cooking kick I found a bread making book in a local store. Not knowing any better, I thought to myself "I can do that." Well, all my friends had their bread machines and after dumping a box of mix and a cup of warm water into the top, mashing the button, in 2 1/2 hours they would have a cute, perfect, small rectangular loaf of bread (in any one of 4 flavors). Meanwhile, I was carefully measuring yeast, checking the exact temperature of the water, mixing, kneading, rising, resting, shaping, rising, baking, and praying to Demeter the Goddess of all bread. And, after some time, and many disasters, I was able to make a pretty darn good loaf of bread. Now granted it wasn't easy and took some time, but to me it was worth it.

However, with all this success, a good basic French baguette alluded me. I could make a dark heavy pumpernickel, a light rye, a great loaf of wheat for sandwiches, whole grain rolls, etc. Oh, I could make a loaf of French bread. But, it wasn't light, with the right taste, crackling crust. I tried many different recipes to no avail. I have an excellent collection of bread cookbooks - you only need so many - after all there are only so many different types of bread. I even bought a French bread steamer. (One of the secrets to good French bread is steam in the oven.)

Now a bread steamer is a cylindrical shaped covered metal tray with a pan beneath it that you use in an oven to cook your French bread. Yesterday, I was looking at the directions for the bread steamer and saw a recipe that I had never noticed before. (It may have helped if I had read the entire booklet, not just the cooking directions.) Perhaps, I said to myself, I should try this recipe, after all what do I have to lose.

I will not go into the details, but when I read through the recipe, I saw what I had been missing to make true artisan French bread. (Now granted, the entire process took 13 hours, but it was well worth it.) When I finished, and the bread was cooling, I heard that sweet sound of the crust cracking, and when I cut the first piece, the uneven holes in the slice along with the elasticity told me I was on the right track. But it was the tang in the taste that sealed the deal. Finally, after 18 years, all I needed to do was read the directions. I think my first grade teacher taught me that - I have always been a slow learner - but bread making is a slow process, and hey - and I'm back to my roots, well close to them - white bread.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Starving Children in China

No offense here, but on the list of manners I had to endure growing up, cleaning my plate was the one that nearly killed me. More than once, when my mother insisted that I had better be thankful for the food we had, and think about all those poor starving children in China, I explained to her, in depth, just how I would gladly wrap what was left on my plate and send it to those children post haste. She failed to see the humor and I was left at the table staring at the mushy yellow squash that, by now, were cold and even more unappetizing. I did not even attempt an appeal to Dad. When it came to cleaning your plate, the buck stopped at our everyday kitchen china.

Unfortunately, I made my daughters clean their plates. There was no alternative, although I did not subject them to any geo-political guilt. I had been raised (scratch that) reared (My Aunt Kat always reminded me that cows were raised in a barn, children were reared at home, even if they didn't act like it.) to eat it all, so by God they would also.

Long story - short, in my mid-forties, I decided that perhaps I would be a little more attractive if I wasn't the size of a small barn. (Once you learn that they make an 18 Petite and it is not an oxymoron - you should take the hint.) So, after many attempts, and several long years, I worked my way back to a size 6.

When friends asked me how I did it, did I go to Weight-Watchers? or Jenny Craig? I just told them that I only ate when I was hungry, and stopped eating just before I was full. But the most important thing I did was stopped feeling like I always had to clean my plate. One acquaintance, I didn't know well at the time, looked at me and laughed, "But what about all those starving children in China?"

All I can say is that those starving children in China were obviously a universal concern of a lot of mothers in the 1960's.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pass the green beans and the pot, please.

Supper at my grandparent's was always a lively occasion. Both of my mother's parents enjoyed fun debates with my father. Those banters could range from politics to idle gossip to the economy to farm issues to sports. Although my grandparents were not "drinkers" per se, when my parents arrived with the liquor bag, everyone had a little nip. Dinner was never a passive affair.

Let me set the scene here. My grandfather had been a big tobacco farmer and had sold the farm and bought my grandmother her dream home in town. Finally, she was able to live a civilized life. He had always promised it to her and he came through in style. Although all of us loved the old farmhouse, this one was more formal and we knew how much Grandmama loved it. Supper was always served in the dining room with my grandfather at the head of the table and my grandmother seated at the other end. This particular evening must not have been during Christmas, because I was seated at the dining room table (ie the Big table), a status I did not achieve during the holidays until I brought my DH to meet the family.

Anyway, my brother and I were seated at the dining room table with my parents and my grandparents. My Aunt J'nellewas in and out of the dining room bringing the serving dishes to the table. The conversation had started with football and had somehow worked its way to how drugs were going to be the downfall of this young generation. My brother quietly took a piece of fried chicken and passed the platter to me, both of us lying low with fear that we would be dragged into this discussion. I could tell from the look in his eye, he too, wanted to join me as part of the wall paper. My father was just commenting that he had read that marijuana was as dangerous as heroin when my aunt entered the room with the bowls of rice and gravy. As she placed them on the table in front of my grandfather, she looked at my father and non-chalantly said, "I don't know how you can say that, I smoked marijuana and I didn't think it was that dangerous." With that, she turned on her heels and went back to the kitchen to get the beans. Well, with this one statement suddenly all the assumptions of my "old maid" aunt went out the window and the order of my universe was changed forever.

When she returned with the beans and sat down, my grandfather said grace and quickly asked my father who he thought would win the ACC title this coming fall, my grandmother asked my brother how school was going, and my mother got up to freshen her drink. I looked across the table and caught the twinkle in my aunt's eye. I had studied genetics in school but looking at my aunt and my mother at the same table tested any theory I had about the gene pool.

Pet Names

Once Miss Sylvia got to know me, I was given the pet name "Honey". Everyone had a pet name. The Judge was "Pretty". One of the attorneys was "Sweet Thing", another one was "Pretty Boy." I never was sure if it was her way of remembering everyone and keeping us all straight. Or, her own way of subconsciously letting us know what she thought of each us. But whatever the reasoning, once you were anointed with a moniker, it stuck and she never forgot. Years after someone left, she would ask me, "Do you ever here from 'Pretty Boy'?"

One morning Miss Sylvia came in the office. I could tell she was excited about something. "You'll never guess what came in the mail today." "What?" "This box of candy. And, it's from 'Sweet Thing'. He remembered my birthday." Sure enough she placed a box of Godiva Chocolates on my desk. "Well sir, have you ever seen such? Look at them," she said as she opened the box to proudly show me the confections. "This here paper shows what's in each piece." It was all I could do not to laugh - not at her (although she was pretty funny) but just to watch her enjoy such a gift.

She went on, "And look, each piece is a special shape." "Have you tried one, yet?" I asked seeing that none were missing from the box. "Lord no, they're too pretty to eat. Why, I looked at the box they came in and he even sent them straight from the factory!" "I think you should try one." "Maybe I could try just one." So she carefully selected a scallop shaped shell piece. As she put it in her mouth her eyes rolled back in her head. "Lord have mercy this is good. I've never had anything such as this. Have a piece," she said as she offered me the box. "No mam, I just ate. But I have tasted them before and they are wonderful."

"Well I figure if I go home and put this box by my bed, I can have one piece a night for two weeks." "That's if your kids don't get into them." "I'll kill 'em. I will just shoot 'em right then and there." Knowing Miss Sylvia had a gun and knew how to use it, I feared for her children's safety (even though they were all over 21). She stood there with her gray hair pulled tight in a bun and her wire glasses on, looked at me with that twinkle in her eyes and said, "Now isn't that boy really a sweet thing to have sent this me. I named him right. I knew it the first I laid eyes on him."

Monday, February 8, 2010

I Don't Fry Chicken

That's right - you heard it here. I don't fry chicken. I stopped trying a while back. I could never get it right. Didn't matter who tried to teach me, what cook book I was reading, what TV show I was watching (even when I was holding my nose right - as my aunt once told me you had to do). I never learned to fry chicken.

While I'm confessing, I might as well tell you I cannot make a good biscuit. I can make any kind of bread from scratch - yeast, sour dough, soda, it doesn't matter, but biscuits - can't do it. My grandmother made the best little biscuits in the world. So much so that when her kitchen things were divided up there was a major free-for-all among the five grandchildren over the holder she put the biscuits in to keep them warm. Anything, we thought that would help us replicate those delicate, delightful Redband (she only used Redband) flour biscuits. But thanks to Modern Marvels, Pillsbury has saved me (and possibly my marriage) with their frozen biscuits.

For years, I could not cook collards in a respectable manner. My mother told me I needed to cook them twice - and add sugar - that was the secret. My mother-in-law's cook, Clemmie,  told me that sugar was a "no no" and you just "throw them in a pot of water, bring them to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, and cook 'til done." (Please define "Done" - I need some help here.) Finally, I found a recipe that worked for collards (that's humilating to admit). I bet I'm the only southern women who uses a recipe to cook my collards. "Season to taste and cook 'til done" just didn't cut it with me when it came to collards. When you are dealing with one of the trinity of southern cooking, one cannot take a chance.

I am about as southern as the best of them but I was beginning to think this was some special club and no one was showing me the secret handshake. You are telling me I can make a souflee to die for, a flan that will make one swoon, cajun chili chicken with lime that will seduce your taste buds, but I cannot dredge a simple piece of chicken in flour and cook it in hot oil. Come on now, I'm from "good family". . . and I never wear white shoes after labor day. What other proof do you need?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Old Girls Just Want to Have Fun

One morning when Karen came in, I asked her how her morning was going. "Well much better than last night." I knew there was a story there.

Her mother-in-law, "Miss" Margaret, is one of the Grand Dames of the South. In her late 80's she is still going strong and enjoying every bit of life she can. Several years ago when she had to give up driving (a privilege she did not relinquish easily) she just accepted her fate but it did not slow her down. Apparently, the evening before, Karen and her husband were in bed at their home, which is located across the highway from the "Big House" where "Miss" Margaret lives. They received a phone call from their niece, who was very upset, saying that she could not get in touch with her grandmother ("Miss" Margaret) and asking if something was wrong. Being concerned they got dressed and went over to the Big House to check on her.

The lights were on in the house and the door was locked. When they entered the house and called her name, there was no response. Panic set in as they raced to her bedroom. Her bed was unmade, her purse was there, but there was no "Miss" Margaret. Now really alarmed, they started searching the house, upstairs and down, for a body. But nothing. They called her driver. According to Jane, she had made sure "Miss" Margaret had eaten supper, changed into her night clothes, and then Jane had left her in her bed watching TV.

After making sure that the car was still in the yard - and it was (just because they told her she couldn't drive wouldn't necessarily stop her if she decided to) they called the sheriff. He was very supportive and said he would be out right away. Karen said by this time they were frantic and getting very upset. How could she just vanish? Did someone take her? Did she just wonder off - and lock the door behind her?

It was at this time that they heard the front door open. In walked "Miss" Margaret, dressed fit-to-kill, head-to-toe in sequins. "Mama, where in the Hell have you been?", asked Karen's husband. "The Hospital Charity Dinner. Bob and Mary had an extra ticket and asked if I wanted to go." "You can't just get all dressed up and go out to some dinner without us knowing." "Why not? They had an extra ticket. I didn't drive. Do you think I'm just going to sit home every night?" "You scared us to death." Then sheepishly, "Miss" Margaret looked at her son and said, "I'm sorry. They just called at the last minute. I was so excited and figured you would never know about it. After all, you never did before."

Her son just shook his head and as he walked out of the door said, "This is worse than having teenagers."

Friday, February 5, 2010

On Tour

“Miss” Margaret, the Judge’s mother-in-law loved to play host to visitors to our town. She would provide an extensive tour of everything from our city gardens, to different homes in the area, the historical society, her favorite restaurant, and, last, but not least, our chambers. And, as far as our part was concerned she had the tour down pat. In the reception area was a life size portrait of the Judge. "Miss" Margaret would hit the buzzer at the front door, when I saw it was her, I would open the door from my desk.

She would lead her guests into the reception area, with her left hand she would waive and smile my way and her right hand would make this grand gesture toward the portrait. “This is the Robert Bruce Williams’ portrait of the Judge. She had this . . .” And the tour had started. I knew from experience that I had about seven and a half minutes before she would bring her guests around the corner to introduce me as Stop Number 2 on the tour. To hear her tour, our jobs were much more interesting and dramatic than anything I had experienced within chambers. In fact, they were very similar to TV legal shows that she loved to watch.

Now, you never knew who her “tourist” might be. They could be family friends in town for a quick visit. Or, one of her dear friends that she promised her special tour. Anytime the local Rotary Club had guests, they always scheduled a day with “Miss” Margaret. And, she loved it. She was proud of her town and adored being with people. But the most memorable guests she brought by one afternoon were a group of Russian judges.

Now there were several things interesting about this group. First, she failed to give us any advanced warning and secondly, none of them spoke English. They did have a translator, but he was out of his league trying to keep up with “Miss” Margaret, even with her Southern drawl. So in they came. “Miss” Margaret waived to me and then started her comments about the portrait. At this point, I was unaware of the language challenge.

Somewhere during the tour, one of the judges needed to use our ladies room. "Miss" Margaret showed her where it was. Unfortunately, she failed to tell her not to lock the door. The door to this bathroom was notorious for locking someone in and the design did not use a key, so unless the captive could carefully finesse the finicky lock, short of knocking the door down, there was no way to free the prisoner. Naturally, our soviet visitor managed to lock herself in the loo.

Now you have to picture a locked door with someone (me) trying to explain, through an interpreter, in Russian, the precise way to finesse this lock, surrounded by a dozen other Russian judges confused over what difficulties their comrade was experiencing. After several tense minutes of directions there was success and freedom. After that, all I could imagine was "Miss" Margaret adding another stop on her tour - the bathroom where an interpreter was required to assist in freeing the Russian judge - of course her version would be much more thrilling - full of international intrigue.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I was standing in line this afternoon (at Costco) and I happened to notice the lady in front of me. (There's not much else to do with your time at that point.) She was nicely dressed and you could tell by what she was purchasing that she liked to cook and was fairly sophisticated in her pallet. She had some high end red wines, prosciutto, dried cranberries, and vanilla beans. But what stood out most was the tattoo of a red rose on her arm. It just didn't fit the picture. Not even in a - well, I was young and foolish at one time - kind of way. No way.

I started thinking. There are some kinds of foolishness that can be undone - when you wake-up and smell the coffee. Green hair can be handled. Anything pierced, thanks be to God, can grow back. Announcing to your friends that your real name is "Prescott" not "Snake" and you would appreciate them calling you that, can quickly reverse that error in judgement. Heck, even a bad marriage can be forgiven - that's what divorce is for. But a tattoo is there forever.

Now, my Daddy loved me more than life itself, but I think a tattoo would have been the end of me. There would have been no toleration what-so-ever. And, I was reminded of that on several occasions. (Not that it ever, even in my most demented condition, crossed my mind.) But, as I stood in line, I considered what the reaction would have been had I come home with something like, say a red rose tattooed on my ankle.

Mama's would have been predictable,"You know better than that. White trash get tattoos, not our kind of people. And, look where it is, it'll show in your wedding pictures. You've done it now young lady, even your Daddy won't tolerate this one out of you."

My Mama's sister  would probably have said, "Well, I imagine your Mama had a fit. You know proper young ladies would never do such a thing." Then she would look at my ankle in disgust and add, "If you were going to get one, you could have at least had the decency to get it some place no one would see it - like your lower back - where mine is."

I don't think my dear Aunt Kat would even know where to start, it may have well put her in an early grave.

But, then there was my Aunty, who I can hear now with her smoky voice between drags of her Salem, "I've never seen a tattoo on a woman. Most of the tattoos I've seen said something like 'I love Mom' or 'Mable'". Puff. "Well, I'll be. A rose, huh?" She would smile as she stubbed out her cigarette. "For God's sake don't tell Mamie. It's not worth the heartburn. I learned a long time ago. Did I ever tell about the time she caught me in the barn with the Mcalister twins, Angus and Roy? She still thinks I was showing them Papa's prize cow. Man, I remember those boys." She would laugh, light another Salem, take a drag, then laugh again, "I bet your Mama had a fit." Another drag. "And don't worry about your Dad, trust me, he'll get over it."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


There are few things we women can control about our lives. We have no control over our body sizes, if we are short and vain, then stilettos are our only salvation. Those poor women "blessed" with height can only hope for a dream job as a super model. As for our weight, oh, we can diet until our heart's content with questionable results. (Is the pain really worth the gain - or loss?) We cannot manage our mothers, just hope to survive to adulthood when suddenly we appreciate (at least) some of what they preached about and have gained enough maturity to ignore what we will never understand and just pray that it is not genetic.

Even our children are often out of control. Oh, we can argue "parental control" until we are blue in the face. We can withhold the car keys and the cash, but when it really comes down to it, it is their decision whether or not they want to obey and follow the family party line. Face it, the ultimate goal here is for everyone to survive.

We cannot control our husbands. If you can, you are married to the wrong man, and are definitely reading the wrong blog! My Daddy gave me sage advice on one of our early morning rides on the farm when I was younger. "Doodle, when you get married, find someone who will be your partner. You don't want someone to lead around and, for God's sake, you don't want someone to follow." I kept this advice in mind and is has served me well. Granted, you can nudge, cajole, suggest, or implore. But I digress.

Now all is not lost. Life is good, because it is not all about control. Southern women learned this a long time ago. It is about getting your way. Control has nothing to do with it. And, usually, whoever is "in control" never knew it happened. My Daddy also told me, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." And, Honey, let me tell you it works.

By the way, I have found one thing that all women do have complete control over - our hair color. For me, in full disclosure, it's Excellence by Loreal, Lightest Golden Brown.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

". . . I could have got so drunk last night."

"Wouldn't it be horrible if you'd spent all your life doing everything you were supposed to do, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't eat things, took lot's of exercise, all the things you didn't want to do, and suddenly one day you were run over by a big red bus, and as the wheels were crunching into you you'd say 'Oh my God, I could have got so drunk last night!' That's the way you should live your life, as if tomorrow you'll be run over by a big red bus." 

The more I think about this, the more true it seems, and I feel I must revisit my priorities. I only it wish it were my quote. But alas, I cannot claim it. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother said it. Given that she lived to the ripe old age of 102, perhaps we all should take it into consideration. I found it as I was reading The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross, which I highly recommend, all 1120 pages of it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"It was the best of times . . ."

Oh sweet Jesus, I can see the shelves. The snow is gone, the trees and gates and street lights vanished. No more merry carollers silently singing their hearts out. The butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker, and the haberdasher have all been packed away. All along the horizon of the shelves and cabinets, for as long as the eye can see, there is no church or steeple, no palace or theater. No mills, no towns, not a cottage in sight. All is clear. There is a God.