Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Presentation

As I mentioned before, we still hold onto vestiges of the past - things we feel are proper. One of these is the Debutant Ball. Looking at it from the outside in can be foreign and/or humorous. Even as a devout southerner, I question anyone who takes this very seriously. This is a tradition that I think is important, but only if all the parties involved want to participate.

If you are going to get involved, you need to understand the traditions. There are several hard and fast rules and other "expectations". The trick is learning to follow the rules, understand the expectations, and sit back and watch the show.

Now dressing for the Ball is not easy. Ladies are required to wear a formal gown with elbow length gloves. No where does it say that the gloves have to be leather, but unless one wants to be the fodder for the powder room chit chat, it is best that they are. The Debs have some restrictions that the girls find ridiculous. The dresses have to be white, not candlelight, not off-white, not pearl, but stark white. And, they cannot be strapless. The Board was about to drop this restriction when President Bush's daughter had her unfortunate wardrobe malfunction on the dance floor. After that, it was not even brought up for discussion. Of course, the Debs also wear the elbow length white gloves.

If you are going to be in the receiving line (this includes mothers, Debs, and their sponsors) you may want to consult with others about your choice of gowns. One memorable year, two mothers in the receiving line showed up in the same dress. It was not pretty - but to everyone's credit, the Ball did go on. (And, the sun came up the next morning.)

Then you have the names, as they are announced: Miss Mary Katherine Lesane (aka Mary Kate) is presented by her father, Mr. Butler Pickney Lesane III (aka Buddy), and escorted by Mr. Arthur McCords Middleton IV (aka Chip). Of course Mary Kate and Chip are hardly speaking but Mary Kate's mother's, Missy, was bound and determined (ever since Mary Kate was 6) that Chip was going to be her escort at her Deb ball. After all, he was from the best family. The fact that Chip was in the process of failing out of his second college and had a socially unmentionable drug problem did not matter. Nor did the fact that Mary Kate was madly in love with a young man she had met at Sewanee (the University of the South) from a very old well-to-do family in New Orleans. Missy's friends did not know Mary Kate's new friend's family so the effect would be lost and this was Missy's one night to shine - Mary Kate aside.

And so, the tradition continues and everyone smiles.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stuck in Time in the Piggly Wiggly

In our small town we have 2 Piggly Wiggly grocery stores (made famous in the movie "Driving Miss Daisy"). And yes, there are really grocery stores in business with that name. There is something to be said about small hometown grocery stores with cracked linoleum tile floors and friendly people working in them. If you have more than one bag, I can assure you that they are going to be carried by a nice young man who will discuss the weather as he walks you to your car. There he will carefully place them in your trunk or backseat. It is not up for discussion - more than one bag - someone is going to help you to your car. I have learned how to politely tell them "Thank you, but I'm Ok and I think you have your hands full with other customers", knowing my days as the "other" customer are coming soon.

In a quaint old fashioned way, only young teenage girls are cashiers at the check out counters and the teenage boys are the baggers and stockers. With one exception - in the store downtown, as long as I can remember, there is one older lady, Miss Eleanor (now in her 70s) working as a cashier. She works along side the teenage girls. Except, the young girls come and go, year after year - off to college, to get married, and some just leave town. But she remains, just like the institution.

The camaraderie among the workers is great. The guys pick on the girls, the girls flirt with the boys. You can over hear discussions about upcoming parties or ballgames. And Miss Eleanor is part of it all. While the teenagers wear jeans and t-shirts that say "I'm Big on the Pig", she wears neat navy pants and a navy smock with "Piggly Wiggly" embroidered on it with her sensible navy shoes. Her gray hair is perfectly done every time I see her.

One afternoon I was standing in her line behind a nice looking older gentleman who was buying some cigarettes and a loaf of bread. They chatted. He seemed very animated. She was very reserved but polite. When it was my turn, I smiled and asked her how her day was going. "Well, I was Ok until that gentleman came in." "Oh," I said. "He had the nerve to ask me to go to dinner with him?" "That was nice." "You don't understand, first they ask you to dinner, then the next thing you know they want to come visit you in your home. I'm not a spring chicken, I know what men have on their minds." There wasn't much I could say in response to that.

As I walked out of the store, watching the young men carrying bags for the other women, in a way, I felt like I was walking out of the 1950's. Miss Eleanor was stuck in time - like everything else is moving along and she has managed to stay safely in her 1950's world thanks to the time capsule of Piggly Wiggly. We just come and go, in and out, and she watches the world from her counter, happy for the rest of us but having no desire to move on.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Fourth Person

My mother has this annoying habit of speaking in fourth person. When she wants to give her opinion and add some credibility, she will always start with, "Well, you know people say . . ." or "Everyone in town is talking about it." I could never define this habit, I just knew it irritated the heck out of me. Yesterday, I finally found that it is grammatically accepted. Now, I am not defending her, or saying it is correct, but my research says "The Fourth Person is sometimes used for the category of indefinite or generic referents." So, I am assuming the "generic referents" are the figments of my mother's imagination who are readily available to support and validate her opinions.

Now, I had an imaginary friend when I was 3 or 4 named Guggy but never recall relying on him and all his friends as my "indefinite" referents when I was trying to make a point to my parents. (Probably because I never thought about it. His thousands of friends would have readily agreed with me on any issue. That would have given credence to any statement a 4 year old was trying to make. "All of Guggy's friends say it is OK to get to stay up late." Somehow, I don't think that would have swayed Dad.) But I digress.

Now, I can assure you, if my mother (all 4 feet 10 inches of her) walked in and said, "Now, James, Sue, Anne, Carolyn, and Joyce all say that Sara and Tom are having an affair," I would definitely take her seriously, after recovering from the shock that she had revealed her "referents". But, I'm not concerned about going into the shock, because that is not going to happen. My concern is that she will move from fourth to fifth person. That is where the indefinite referents talk among themselves. I can hear it now, "Well, everyone in my neighborhood heard that everyone else in town was saying . . ."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Social Status

Even the small southern town I grew up in had its social hierarchy. And, like many places doctors were on the top of the list. My father was a pharmacist. My mother, always socially conscious, referred to his occupation as being "in the medical profession". Which, as a child I found confusing and as I got older found quite amusing. Dad thought it was outrageous, but like many other things about my mother, he knew there was little he could do about it, so he ignored it.

Perhaps my mother had to struggle with social norms. The irony was, Dad was incredibly socially connected. Everybody loved him. Unlike, my mother, he didn't discriminate between "good families" and everyone else. There were some characters in his life that my mother found appalling and made her thoughts very clear to him. While Mama maintained her life among the "good families" with her husband in "the medical profession", Dad just went on about life.

Mama was always concerned about making sure that I was in all the "right" social clubs in high school. One of those was Cotillion. This was a club actually made up of mothers who sponsored two formal dances a year. But the girls were considered the "members" their junior and senior years in high school. I was not invited to join my junior year. But my friends invited me to the dances as their guest. Somehow, the irony was - Mom was oblivious to this. Dad asked me one afternoon, why I was not in Cotillion. When I explained that it was really a club of mothers. Although he felt my pain, he found this fairly humorous.

My senior year, I was invited to join. It wasn't until later that I learned it was Dad who called one of his good friends, a lady who he knew was a member of Cotillion and explained the situation. She made sure that I received an invitation that year. So, I guess, it was important to have a father in "the medical profession" after all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why I Believe

As I have stated before, I am a true believer in the big man in red. I learned my lesson early. When I was five or six, thinking logically, I started calculating the number of hours in a night, the number of houses in the world, and the amount of time it would take someone to jump out a sleigh and come down every chimney. Funny, I believed that there was a chance the reindeer flew, he had an accurate list, and he lived forever. The idea of elves was questionable. Anyway, putting the package together, as Mr. Spock would say, "This is totally illogical". When I posed my theory to my father, in his wise way, he took it in stride, and said,"Well, you have thought this through and you have some good points." His answer really bothered me. I expected some argument.

As Christmas got closer, I tried to co-op my younger brother into my theory. He wasn't buying it though. He was holding out for that large yellow Tonka Dump Truck to go with the Tonka Road Scraper he got for his birthday. He had the page marked in the Sears & Roebuck Wish Book. (Remember that wonderful red catalog that would come in the mail a month or so before Christmas? My brother and I would fight over possession of it for weeks. Each of us clearly marking the items we wanted from the incredible selection of toys in the back of the book. But I digress.)

Every year, Santa would make one short visit to our small town and hold forth at the local Sears store located on the town square. That particular year, my father suggested I go with him to take my brother. As we walked up to the store, there was a crowd of excited children with their parents expectantly waiting to see the big man. (I still had my doubts. After all, how did he have time to visit every town.) My father led us through the crowd.

As we walked through the door, a loud voice boomed from the back of the store. And, what followed changed my life forever. Santa called my name - loudly. The line waiting to see him parted and I could see him sitting there in his big chair. "Someone told me you no longer believe in me," he said in a questioning voice. "Come hear. Let's talk." Somehow I made it down the aisle. As I approached him, he looked down at me and smiled. "Oh, I believe," I quickly said. "I thought you did. Now let's discuss that Chatty Cathy on page 105 of the Wish Book. I think that was on your list." If I ever had a doubt, that night I drank the Koolaide.

As Dad took us home, I just couldn't stop talking about how nice Santa was and how hard his job must be. Dad just smiled. "Santa" was the local radio announcer, Mr. Kirby, a good friend of my father's. Needless to say, Mr. Kirby had some inside information and was prepared for me. When I was older and learned the truth about my "Miracle on Russell Street" I was in awe of what a father would do to make sure his little girl did not lose the magic of Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Where Do These People Come From?

I just boarded the plane and am settling in. Like everyone else, my seat mate is busy with his Blackberry finishing those emails before "the cabin door closes and all cell phones have to be turned off and safely stowed away for the remainder of the flight." He turns to me and comments,"My boss didn't believe me when I said we were cooking our Thanksgiving turkey in a trash can, so I am sending him a picture of it. Do you want to see it?" Here is where I went wrong. "Sure," I said. Now down here, believe it or not, we have friends that are very creative when it comes to grilling and it is not unusual for a metal 40 gallon trash can to be used as a grill. So he proceeds to show me the grill, followed by pictures of the turkey before it was cooked, during the process, before it was served, the bird on the table, etc. (all with running commentary).

Then it takes a turn. He shows me pictures of his wife and daughter. I comment that they are nice looking (what else is a properly raised southern woman supposed to say?) I start checking the emails on my Blackberry hoping that he will take the hint and enjoy his pictures quietly and privately. But no! "Here is a picture of my wife and daughter on our master bed." I don't offer a comment. He continues. "Here they are with our pet dog and cat.(on the bed)" I am scared to look for fear of what they are doing with the dog and the cat on the bed. I glance around to see if I am on Candid Camera - this is geting more bazaar by the minute. I get more serious with the emails on my Blackberry and just hope he will leave me alone.

Then he asks me, "Do you have any hobbies?". Before I can answer (not that I planned to), he says, "I am into drag racing." I do not encourage the conversation. But he goes on to explain how fast the cars go, what kind of car he drives . . . I just tune him out. Are we there yet? I feel like I am sitting next to Will Ferrell in Elf. Remember the part in the movie when he drones on about his journey from the North Pole, ". . . and then I passed through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly, twirly gum drops, then . . ."

I think this is the part where my southern upbringing fails me. I have been polite and look where it has gotten me - seated next to some social imbicile who would be a Saturday Night Live writer's dream. In fact, I'm not sure I see the humor in this any more. We have moved on to the Twilight Zone. He is now explaining how he and a friend rent a rarely used airfield to race their cars. As I look at his blue polyester pants and his doc martin shoes, I ask myself, "Just what does this guy do?" Then I start looking for a hospital band, certainly he has escaped from somewhere. I'm thankful I am sitting on the aisle.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Update to "True Measure" on Nov 25

Back in November I wrote about my Grandmother being able to measure "on the fly" when she baked and always get it right. We recently received a cookbook from the famed French Laundry and as I was perusing it, I came upon an interesting section on being able to measure by sight. Now, why does the French Laundry have to reveal to me my Grandmother's secrets. I always knew she was a world class cook - this just proves it in writing. According to them, a teaspoon should equal the amount of salt one can gather between the thumb and 3 fingers, 1/2 teaspoon between the thumb and 2 fingers, and 1/4 teaspoon between the thumb and 1 finger. And now you know . . . the rest of the story.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Family Holiday Traditions

This Christmas I am going to have to be creative. I no longer have access to silverware, my dining room has been commandeered, and we have a new "twinkling" light system on our tree. So much for the trappings of Christmas, but we still have the family traditions. Then, over Thanksgiving we learn that for first time ever, my DH's family will not be having their family Christmas on Christmas Eve. Well that's OK, we set another date, the Sunday after Christmas. We will all still be together - just not on Christmas Eve.

I learned at my Garden Club that lime green was the new Christmas color unless you were really "cool" and were into black and silver. I'm not there yet. My DH is upset because I am not sending out Christmas cards this year. (He never knew I sent them out at all until two years ago. I guess he just thought we were on everyone's Christmas card list because they really liked us - please!) I think he just doesn't want to miss the long obnoxious epistles from our friends who must keep a separate day-timer just for their annual Christmas letter.

I finally found the boxes of the correct kind of sugar cookie mix so I can start baking. (And, don't even start with the idea that I made that from scratch. Once I found a mix that tasted better than my Aunt Ginny's homemade recipe, it was all over. Do I look crazy? Sign me up and buy the box.) So it's time to use that new super-duper radar convection range that my DH purchased for me last month. (Did I mention it had to be replaced since the first one was installed? I digress.)

So it's time for the holidays to begin. Our oldest daughter and her beau can come home and bring our grand-dog. It will take a day or two for Maggie to realize she will have to share Thatcher with Sally, but she'll get over it. Our two daughters will argue over who gets which bedroom and the bathroom - that will never change. Our youngest will complain about how the tree is decorated and both will question the new "twinkling" lights. We will have to figure out what we will do on Christmas Eve since we have always gone to my DH's home. Meanwhile my DH will do his best to convince everyone they need to join him on some adventure in the great outdoors. He knows camping is not even up for discussion, but I know he will try to "guilt" everyone into a day long hike.

If we make it to Christmas day with everyone speaking, it will be a wonderful Christmas. However, there is one small issue this year. Whereas before we just had to make it TO Christmas. This year we have to make it to the Sunday after Christmas since that is when my DH's family Christmas will be held. This may be pushing it. Family love can only last so long. After all we have our traditions. And, unfortunately they include sibling rivalry and general household unrest. Pray, we survive Christmas, get through Boxing Day, and are still speaking on Sunday.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Literal List

As they grow up, most children grow a little disillusioned over Santa Claus. (I must admit I never did. I knew a good thing when I saw it. This was a real good thing and I was going to keep this good thing going as long as I could.) However,my youngest daughter has made Christmas morning a little difficult for all of us. It took us several years to realize that she took her list seriously and literally - if she said she wanted a red Northface Denali Jacket that did not mean that the substitution of a red Northface Taya jacket or a black Denali would do (even when the exact product was not available -anywhere). And don't add anything to it - we were told if she wanted it she would have asked for it. After a year or two, we learned to keep the receipts.

On Christmas morning we would let her sit in her chair, open her presents and sulk. Every once in a while, we would hear a "finally someone listened" come from her corner. She, on the other hand would come up with the most thoughtful original gifts for the rest of us who appreciated "It's the thought that counts." For example, last year I commented that of all the pot holders I had in my kitchen I still liked the old ones she and her sister made - you know the ones they used to weave on the little square metal looms out of loops of colorful nylon. Christmas morning she surprised me with six new handmade potholders that she had made for me.

This year, I think she is trying (in her own way). We all received emails from her with her list attached. In the the email were actual url links to the items she wants that we could easily click on and purchase. At the bottom, she listed several gift certificates we could offer to other family members who inquired about gift suggestions for her. Maybe Scrooge has seen Christmas Future and realized and it isn't pretty unless she changes and change is slow for her. She has always been high maintenance - that is not going to change. But I think she wants to move her chair out of the corner.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

School Clothes

When I was in first grade my mother made my clothes. I can remember the excitement of school starting and my 7 or 8 new dresses. Each was from the same basic pattern - but at 6 what did I know. And, each was from a different material, in a different color, some were plaid, one was solid, a few were prints. Each were short sleeve and most had pockets on them. Almost all were decorated with a different color of ric-rac.

This enthusiam was well worn off by Halloween. I was tired of my wardrobe. To make things worse, I seemed to be the only child in my class who was "fortunate" to have a mother talented enough to sew. Other mothers would often ask me if my mother made my dress and comment that is was "so cute". Even at 6, I wasn't sure if that was a heart felt compliment or the kiss of death.

One particular little girl comes to mind. She was pretty and petite. Her clothes were always perfect. I was not sophisticated to understand what I was seeing, but I knew it was different from the rest of us. Every season, she would change like a chameleon into a new phase of fashion.

Then there were the kids who got their mothers to let them shop at the "It" shop in town, where all of the "hip" clothes were. I think I got to go into the store once. Needless to say, none of my clothes came from there - only in my dreams. Meanwhile, I endured ric-rac. Little did I know I was just beginning a 12 year battle with my mother over clothes - a stand off that I never won.

It was only after I got out of college that I found my sense of style, what I really liked and felt comfortable in. I never learned to sew and swore I would never make my children endure that affliction. (Although, we have fought many battles over dress - or lack of it, over the years.)

The mystery of the well dressed little girl was revealed when I learned that 3 or 4 times a year her mother would take her to New York to shop for clothes. No wonder she was so far ahead of us. After all, most of us did not even know where New York was. Since it was north of the Mason-Dixon line it may as well not have existed. Looking back on it, even at 6 she looked like she dressed out of Vogue. No wonder I couldn't relate - as I sat next to her in gingham and ric-rac.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Truth or Just Comments

The other evening at a holiday gathering I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with some colleagues I had not seen in 8 or 9 months. As I mingled from group to group, we exchanged the general pleasantries about family, new hair "do's", stylist clothes, etc. One comment struck me as odd. Two people at separate times approached me and said, "I really looked good, I must be taking good care of myself."

Upon reflection - what the heck does that mean? Did they suspect some type of cosmetic surgery? Perhaps when they saw me, I wasn't as old as they remembered? Have I learned to be more effective in applying my makeup? Or, am I being paranoid?

I have always tried to dress neatly and keep my clothes up-to-date (at least within the decade). As I have discussed before, I am not into spending great deals of money on getting my hair "done". Make-up is something I have never really worried about. (My youngest daughter would describe my talent in this area as "greatly needing improvement.") Cosmetic surgery is not even a serious subject with me. I consider that totally frivolous. Well, I'll confess, as I approached fifty, I did wonder what miraculous improvements a surgical "upgrade" would achieve. I digress.

Then, in horror, it struck me, maybe that was the only positive thing they could think to say. I quickly thought back to what I was wearing, how long it had been since I had had my $25 hair cut, etc. Then, I tried to remember what compliments I had offered. (I always try to be honest, perhaps a little liberal, but honest in what I say.) Let's face it, we are all getting older, and time is cruel to us, with the exception of those who cheat (and, at this age it is starting to show). Maybe I have been taking care of myself - well I haven't really. Perhaps, nature is being kind. It may be best to stop while I'm ahead, take the comments as they were offered, and not try to dissect the words.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Mama's Neighborhood

At Thanksgiving lunch, my mother came in a little late for her, which was 30 minutes before we ate. Knowing she is usually an hour early, I was concerned. And she looked a little frazzled. When I asked her if she was ok, she replied, "Well, yes I think so." "Did something happen?" "No, but I'm not sure I got the oyster pies right." You can do those in your sleep. "I thought so. But I was in the middle of fixing them and someone knocked on my back door. I opened it up and there was Betty. She was walking her dog and just wanted to stop by and wish me a 'Happy Thanksgiving'. I told her I appreciated that but I was busy cooking and didn't have time to chat." Oh, that was nice of her. "But that's not all. Then about ten minutes later, the phone rings and it's my neighbor Carolyn. And she thinks that it would be a good time for a Thanksgiving prayer." "And . . . ", I say. "I just told her 'Carolyn I just don't have time to pray right now but I hope you have a good Thanksgiving'."

Now a little background here, my mother lives in a neighborhood of patio homes. Since they are all one street and they all have time on their hands, everyone knows everything that goes on. As the houses were being built, and went on the market, they could tell you the make and licence tag of every car that came by and looked at the house. Given a day or two, they even knew their names. When one neighbor passed (at the age of 93) they were very industrious at making sure her home was sold to an acceptable type. (No one with young children or overnight visitors who would park on the street.)

When a very flamboyant florist bought one of the homes, they immediately called an emergency homeowners' meeting to make sure everyone knew the homeowner rules, so if, God forbid, he strayed they could set him straight. I told her he was harmless and, what the heck, he would definitely have a landscaped yard and decorate for Christmas. Well, that sent her into orbit. "You don't understand," she said, "we do very well with our landscaper. We like everything to match. And, Christmas, I can only imagine what he will do. Probably lights every where. You know, we don't like lights."

One thing for sure, they are a lively bunch. She enjoys them and they are all a support group for each other but make it very clear that they are fiercely independent. I have made sure to get to know as many of them as possible, although I feel that it is unnecessary. I am sure they know a lot more about me than I would care to tell.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Sweaters

First - this has nothing to do with Glenn Beck. Now that I have that behind me, every year I say that this is the year I am going to get me a "Christmas Sweater" - you know one of those sweaters everyone has for the season. A sweater with a holiday theme. You see them at holiday parties. Some people wear them to work on special occasions. Some women wear them shopping, ect.

They just look festive. To me they say, "I'm in the spirit. I pull this out every year to make that statement." Problem is I can never find one I really like. And, it is not for lack of trying. Oh, they are there. And I even made up my mind if I could ever find one, I would not worry about the cost (up to a point) because it should last a life time - after all how many times can you wear it each year.

I have found both cardigans and pull overs. Personally, I prefer cardigans. Then there is the color issue. I'm not really a red and green person. Think about it. How many outfits do you have that are red and green? I found one I liked with reindeer knitted in it. That's attractive, but is it festive? Not really. Then there are always the ones with Santa on them. These are jolly but I'm not sure it is flattering to go around with a picture this rotund person on your outfit. Next?

Let's try whimsical. I really like the Grinch (many times it suits me). However, that's not really in the spirit is it? Snowflakes are nice and practical - you can wear them into January and February. (Well down here we have as much snow then as we do in December.) But that doesn't really say holiday.

Once again, it doesn't look good for this year. Maybe there is a reason I don't have a Christmas sweater - I haven't found one I really like. Come to think about it - I've never seen one I really liked. Maybe I just like the idea.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On the QT

As you can imagine my Aunt Kat didn't think outside the box - in fact she rarely got out of the box, bless her heart. But she was happy in her world. She was an amazing woman, given that at 16 she went to work at the telephone company to help her newly widowed mother who would give birth to my Dad in 2 months. I think my father's family was very comfortable financially but lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929, then my grandfather died shortly thereafter.

Aunt Kat stayed with the then Bell Telephone company and watched it grow into Southern Bell then Bell South. All along taking part of every pay check and investing it in her beloved company. She was a Bell women all the way. When she retired after 40 years with the company, she was in charge of 100's of operators and loved by every one of them.

Her dress was always professional, a suit with matching hat and shoes - a proper overcoat and gloves. Her hair was always perfectly in place and she wore little makeup because she had clear porcelain like skin. You get the picture.

When we would go to the beach for a week each summer, she would "let her hair down" and pull out the shorts and a bathing suit (complete with matching swimming cap to protect her "permed" hair.) One afternoon, when we were going the beach to swim I went to her room to see if she was ready. There she was, sitting on the edge of the bed in her pink swimsuit, rubbing in suntan lotion - but not just regular suntan lotion. Aunt Kat was using Coppertone QT. She was actually cheating - a tan in a bottle. I was amazed, she had stepped out of the box. She looked at me and smiled. "Don't you tell anybody," she said. I promised I wouldn't, and haven't until now.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Rosy Cheeks

My Aunt Kat used to have a saying "It'll make your cheeks rosy." As a child, that meant if you did whatever it was you really didn't want to do, the only ill consequence would be rosy cheeks. Such as eating some God awful tasting food or taking some medicine Mom was trying to get down my throat. As an adult, I still keep that phrase in mind, but as I have grown up the definition has matured a bit.

It was still effective while we were raising our girls. Now, while it didn't make the medicine taste any better, it reminded them of their beloved Aunt Kat and we at least got a chuckle out of it. My Dad would use the phrase in reference to very spicy food or strong liquor. Of, course, he also said things of that nature would "put hair on your chest". Personally, I preferred the "rosy cheeks".

I often think of my Aunt Kat with her porcelain skin and sunny disposition.To this day, when something comes up in my life, that I really don't want to do, I know if nothing else, it will "make my cheeks rosy" and life will go on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Nightmare of Lights

I've mentioned before our white v. colored tree light issue. Well, this year we decided to modernize our tree and "upgrade" to LED lights. Now mind you, I am talking about a significant investment. These pups are not cheap. My DH attempted to sell this idea to me last yuletide but I resisted because (a) I did not see the purpose of spending gobs of money and (b) I did not particularly care for blue lights. If you have ever paid attention to LED Christmas lights, most of the "white" lights are actually a "cool" blue. And, unless I was going for an Elvis theme, I was opting out.

This year, we were in Sam's (imagine that!) and they had this tremendous assortment of LED holiday lights. Given that the display was centrally located, brightly lit, and very colorful, it quickly attracted my DH's attention. (I think he is part crow - if it is shiny - it's got his attention.) To my surprise they had "warm white" LED Christmas tree lights - finally someone got the memo. After a small conference in the aisle, my DH convinced me it was worth trying and made a good point that if we didn't buy them then, we wouldn't find them again. And, we could always return them - his fail safe deal sealer.

So we put 12 boxes in our buggy and moved on.

The next morning, I find my DH has a string of the new lights plugged in. "These are really neat," he says. "The lights can be programmed 16 different ways" "That's great - but all I need are 2 ways, on and off, " I comment. "What 16 ways?" regretting the question as it slipped out of my mouth. "Let me show you - steady on, chasing, sparkling, slo-glo, fade, sequential, flashing, twinkle, stepping" . . . the rest just went past me. Then he continued, "But the neatest thing is that you can select 'Combination' and it will randomly do all of the functions at once." An illumination nightmare comes to mind.

What have I signed up for? All I remember was agreeing to replace our Christmas tree lights with more efficient LED lights and just "holding out" for white over blue. Now, I fear waking up to a Christmas tree on crack. I don't ask for much, just lights - that work, that light up when you turn them on, that when lit give a warm white glow and stay in a steady state of "on", and that go out when you turn them off. It's not that complicated. Certainly, one of those 16 functions will accomplish this simple task.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Christmas Eve Tradition

One of my fondest holiday memories is not a special Christmas morning, or my first bicycle it is actually Christmas Eve at my father's drug store.

Our small town had three or four local drug stores and all the pharmacists were good friends. Everyone in town had "their" drugstore and rarely did anyone stray. Dad's store was on the street with the doctor's offices behind the hospital - a very strategic location. But he was all about customer service. Just for example - a customer, Mrs. McGee, who happened to live around the block, commented one day that it would be helpful it he carried quart containers of milk along with the pint sizes he had in the drink box. Sure enough, the next week when the Pet milk man came in, Dad placed a standing order for Mrs. McGee's milk. She knew it would be there every week for her.

As you can imagine Dad got to know all his customers very well. After all, this was a long time before Wal-mart and Target. Besides prescriptions and other medications, he carried a complete line of cosmetics, magazines, snacks, drinks, and ice cream, Hallmark greeting cards, and an incredible assortment of chocolate candies. Let me tell you I honed my art of wrapping gifts on boxes of Whitman Samplers. I can wrap one in my sleep! I digress.

But everyone knew that you stopped by Dad's store on Christmas Eve. The festivities started around noon when folks started bringing in goodies - cakes, tins of cookies, homemade snack mix. When it first started, Dad furnished the food, but over the years, as it grew, everyone wanted to contribute their "special" dish to the event. Every time the delivery boy came in, he would be loaded down with more contributions. Then the customers and friends would start dropping by to visit, eat, and wish everyone holiday cheer. By five o'clock the store was still open but a sign went up stating "The Pharmacy was closed" and the bar was open. Then the party started.

Dad would set up a full bar on the counter where he and the other pharmacists normally filled prescriptions and everyone would gather around and "a good time would be had by all". Everyone loved my Dad. In fact, even my friends would drop by during my college years and later, not to see me, but to visit with Dad. Only after everyone else had left, would we clean up and make our way home to crawl in bed and ready ourselves for Christmas morning.

My father passed away nine years ago and had sold his drug store many years before that, but to this day, every Christmas, I still have people in town stop me and say, "You know I was thinking the other day about going by your Dad's drugstore on Christmas Eve." I'm pretty sure Christmas Eve at my Dad's store was part of many local folk's holiday tradition and he enjoyed every minute of it. I know I did.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Colored Lights - To or Not Be

 When my DH and I put up our first Christmas tree we realized there was a problem - an issue serious enough to require mediation. We had a fundamental disagreement on what kind of lights were going on the tree. A little history here - my DH's family always had colored lights and to him that was traditional, no other option. When I was little, we also had the colored lights, the ones the size of your thumb that allowed you to turn the furnace off in your den during the holiday season because the heat from those lights was enough to keep the den at a cozy 73 degrees 24/7. But, as I got older I really liked simple small white lights. Now one thing we did agree on was that they not flicker, twinkle, or "race".

We dickered and bickered over this issue for a week. Finally, we came to peace and decided we would trade off. One year, we would have small white lights and the following year we would have the larger colored lights. That first year we had the colored lights. My DH was very pleased and reminded me throughout the season of childhood memories of colored lights.

"How many Christmas trees do you remember as a child that had white lights?" "Well, none. But that's not the point." "Yes, it is. Christmas is about tradition. And white lights are 'fru-fru' " (his words to describe anything he thought was some new fad).” "Well, I think we should start our own tradition." "And that tradition is going to be a tree with colored lights." I just stopped before it got ugly.

The next year was my year, and I was ready with boxes of white lights. He knew better than to comment. And, so it went, year after year - until our first born was old enough to question this insanity. I told her, as best I could explain to a five year old, that her mature parents never could agree on the color of lights on the Christmas tree, so we had agreed to "play nice" and share.

Over the years, our daughters saw the humor in the situation and picked at their dad unmercifully about the Christmas tree lights. He realized he was outnumbered, and somewhere along the way, the colored lights gave way to white lights. He may have lost the battle, but he is still in the war.

To this day, each year when we pull out the boxes of balls, trimmings, and lights for the tree, he looks me and before he opens his mouth, I say, "I know what you think, it would look better with colored lights." "Well it would." I'm not ready to give on this, but I will admit all my childhood memories are of a big tree with those colored lights. However, my girls' memories will be of a tree with white lights and a Dad still standing his ground for colored ones.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Name Like any Other Name

My Grandmama's first name was Zenith, heaven only knows where that name came from. No one in the family has ever been able to trace its origin. She passed it on to my Mama, who thank God took mercy and spared me the agony of the moniker. I guess she figured that she had taken enough pain for the next generation. It wasn't even in the running for names when my daughters came along.

My mother's name is Zenith Ann and as a child she was blessingly called "Ann". When she went to Wake Forest as a freshman, she found that there were four other "Ann's" on her hall, so she reverted to "Zenith" to distinguish herself. Needless to say, she was the only "Zenith" on campus.

Of course, at home her family still called her "Ann". My father, who met her as a fellow student at Wake Forest, knew her as "Zenith". So when they got married, his family called her "Zenith". As a child this was very confusing. My mother had a split personality - my mother's family called her "Ann" while my dad's family called her "Zenith". To me, any reference to her as "Ann" was foreign because everyone I knew called her "Zenith".

While my father was in pharmacy school in Charleston, he and Mama were invited to Dean's home for a Christmas party. Each student proudly introduced their wife (all the students were male in those days) to the Dean and his wife as they entered the Dean's home. Apparently, a large time was had by all and after many adult beverages were consumed it was time to leave. In southern tradition, the host and hostess said their good byes to everyone at the door. The Dean prided himself on remembering everyone's name. When my mother and father reached the door, the Dean smiled broadly and said, "Bill, it has been a delight to meet your lovely wife, Quasar. I hope you will bring her back sometime".

Daddy laughed all the way to the car. As he opened the car door for Mama, she just gave him a look, "It wasn't that funny," she said. "I guess not," Dad said, "he could have called you Motorola."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Is it Proper or Tacky?

My mother tended to use the term "tacky" when she commented on something not being proper. For example, a young lady calling a young man on the phone would be "tacky". Having gnomes in your yard would qualify as "ticky tacky". Her sister, preferred the terms "correct" and "proper". Of course you need to keep in mind that my mother still has her southern accent while my aunt lost hers somewhere between Boston and Colorado on her academic road to professional unemployment.(See Sept 21.)

My aunt would comment that an invitation she just received was not addressed correctly, therefore it was not "proper". In one particular humorous case, the invitation was from her former roommate, Liddy Hanford to Senator Dole. She was offended that the envelope was addressed to "Miss" instead of "Ms". "She always was so plain," my aunt said. The family thought this whole affair was hilarious, given my aunt was a life long liberal democrat who was always competitive with her former roommate. Now we had to listen about how poor Liddy was giving up her life and any future to marry this "Mr. Dole." My grandmother called Liddy's family to offer congratulations. I then pointed out to my aunt that it wasn't an invitation, but actually just a formal announcement of the nuptials. She had no comment to that.

While my aunt was concerned with maintaining the policies of Amy Vanderbilt and Robert's Rules of English, my mother's concerns were more with the thin line between us and white trash. I think she felt if she didn't point out the differences we might just cross the line and it would all be over. Growing up, I found this all fairly amusing. Like I was going to put pink flamingos in my yard, move my appliances onto the front porch, or marry my cousin. I had my standards.

So the question was: Did I aspire to an educated view of the proper and correct or just stay the course and hopefully avoid anything tacky. I chose to walk the line.

(Note: Although she is known as "Libby" Dole, when she was young, her family and friends called her "Liddy". She was raised on a farm in NC and my grandparents and her parents, the Handfords, came to know each other when their daughters were roommates at Duke and later lived together in Boston.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A True Measure

How precise do we need to be? When I was little, I would sit on a tall stool and carefully watch every move Grandmama made as she baked. She always told me the secret to baking was chemistry - you had to measure your ingredients precisely. Then I noticed that her cups of flour (always Redband) were heaping cups. That is the cup was full with a mound on top. When she added the vanilla, she always used the bottle cap to measure it. When I asked why, she said it measured out to be a 1/2 teaspoon. When it came to salt - she just sprinkled some in her palm, pinched it between her thumb and forefinger, and threw it in. I asked her if that was "a pinch". She replied, "No, a dash." I was confused. Whatever - the magic worked and the cake came out perfect, every time.

When I started baking and really paying attention to techniques, two things struck me as odd. First, everything I read emphatically said to level off your dry ingredients to ensure that you have the exact amount. (Heaping was nowhere to be found.) Second, I could never find the definition of a "pinch" or a "dash". I followed the directions in recipes precisely, but my baked goods just never were quite as good as Grandmama's. (Aunt Kat would have told me I wasn't holding my nose right - her answer when anything went wrong.)

The position of my nose aside, there had to be more to this. I pulled down my book of recipes hand written by Grandmama, certainly this would reveal all. To no avail - they were loaded with pinches and dashes and a new one - "smidgens". Word to the wise, don't ask too many questions. I started doing research. Seems a "dash" equals 1/8 of a teaspoon - who knew? But a "pinch" equals 1/16 of a teaspoon. (I want to know who measured that one.) Bottom line - a "smidgen" is 1/32 of a teaspoon. (I think the Princeton dictionary had it correct when they described it as "a scarcely detectable amount.")

One day I found measuring spoons that actually measured out a dash, a pinch, and a smidgen. I knew I was set. No recipe could get ahead of me now. Everything was going well until the afternoon I was baking and saw that the next ingredient was a "dab" of butter. When I went to look this one up the only definition I could find was "a small quantity of something moist." Gee whiz - thanks. I think it is a conspiracy.


A Sterling Adventure

In looking for a salt spoon to give me 8 and a complete set, I found myself lost in the myriad of place and serving pieces of sterling silver. I had no idea there were so many and not a clue as to what to do with most of them. (And, as for my salt spoons, I only have them because I found 7 in an antique store and if you have ever seen salt spoons that go with salt cellars, you would know why I could not resist them.) Anyway, I decided that I would do some research and every day add a very short blog entry (to my usual one) devoted to one of these interesting, but rather obscure pieces of silver. You may have these pieces and use them daily. If so, I envy you because I so love sterling flatware. But, if you are like me, we'll find the journey a little interesting, and who knows, you may recognize that bizarre piece of sterling you found while cleaning out Great Aunt Sara Jane's house after her unfortunate passing at the age of 97.