Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cigar Smoke and Lessons Learned

You know how certain smells can bring back wonderful memories of child hood. Cigar smoke brings back some of my fondest memories of my grandfather. Like many men of his generation, he smoked cigars. When I was young, my grandparents had a large tobacco farm in Marlboro County. (Yes, for those of you not from our part of the world, most of the cigarettes got their names from local tobacco growing areas such as Winston-Salem, Marlboro county, etc. ) I digress.

Besides being a big successful farmer, my Granddaddy was a very big hunter, especially birds. And, he had lots of friends who enjoyed hunting with him on the farm and he was very generous with his invitations for them to join him. Of course after an early morning of hunting duck or doves (depending on the season) the men would be hungry. My Grandmama, being the ultimate southern hunter's wife, would have a bountiful breakfast spread waiting for them. I can remember being there as they came in, with their hunting dogs in the yard and their muddy boots on the porch. (They knew better than to wear them in the house.) Of course, the local game warden would usually happen to "drop by" just in time for breakfast. But nobody minded, because he was a local good 'ol boy and was as welcome as everyone else.

They would all sit around the big dining room table, enjoying the meal and talking for an hour or so afterwards. I was always happy to help Grandmama serve and clean-up. She was a good teacher. Although she never could teach me how to make those biscuits, I did learn how to set a table, cook eggs and grits, set out the large serving dishes, and silently remove the plates after everyone had finished eating but were still talking and enjoying their cigars. I learned some valuable lessons from her about handling large groups for a meal. But most importantly, I learned what the limit was for dove season and how to hide the burlap sack of those extra birds that just happened to be on my Grandmama's back porch.

Like I said, she was the ultimate southern hunter's wife.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Postscript to the Cheesecake

PS You CAN use a Kitchen Aide mixer to make a Carnegie Deli Cheesecake. I did it this weekend and the cheesecake baked just fine. We have eaten over half of it and have lived to tell about it. No more "whipping with a wooden spoon." (Just in case anyone wanted to know.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Short Obit: Mrs Talbot

Mrs. Talbot died last week. Now, most of you never knew Nancy but you may have known that famous red door to her store. Yes, Nancy Talbot and her husband Rudolf started the well known store in 1947. She wanted clothes "that are timeless because they are ladylike, simple but not contrived, gimmicky or extreme, smart but not faddy, fashionable but not funky -- chic and understated, the hallmarks of good taste." I could not have said it better.

Every time I venture into some clothing line that I think is more "couture" and will make me more cosmopolitan, I realize I am out of my league and find myself back on the sofa with that comfortable catalogue that always has something that will fit and hold up. And yes, it may cost more, but when I look in my closet, those are the clothes I can depend on each season. And every time I am lured to cheaper clothes (not nice clothes at cheaper prices mind you) I make a decision I regret and once again find my way back to the friendly red door.

Yes, Nancy, you always took care of me. And even though my youngest daughter calls me frumpy, I now understand I am in good company given that you have dressed several of the most recent first ladies.

To my youngest - Yes, my child - she too, Mrs. Obama, whom you adore must be frumpy - for she and your mother shop at the same store. Perhaps your universe will never be the same.

The "New" Friendly Sky's

Now that commercial flying has become a sport, I have decided to embrace it and enjoy the game – like I have a choice. I have always enjoyed flying and I am not going to let the threat of terrorist and a color chart keep me from the friendly sky's.

I have just adopted the attitude that one must slow down, take advantage of the wait time, and assume that it a forced break from the office, my hectic world, and small town. Because when you are sitting in an airport, there is no doubt you are “out amongst them”. God, what people will wear.

When I was a little girl, I can remember flying as a big deal, you dressed up. Men always wore suits and women - their Sunday best (what we in the south describe any thing dressy you would wear in the daytime) complete with gloves. (Or, at least that’s how they did it in the movies and the TV commercials – the closest I came to flying as a child.) My, how times have changed.

And, security check points add a whole new dimension. Once you realize to be prepared – always wear shoes that slip off, no belt (if you can help it), put your watch in your bag before hand, remember those pesky 4oz liquids, and the guns and knives (always an issue in the south). Be prepared, God knows you do not want ugly stares from those professional flyers in line behind you, who might think you never fly. I pride myself on always being ready before I get in line – I may not be professional but I can at least maintain the appearance.

I always fly with a laptop. A year or so ago (before net books became the rage), I was “issued” a Tough Book. Panasonic developed these for the troops in Iraq – weighs only 3 lbs, you can drop it, spill a Diet Coke on it, and it keeps on going. (Something like the old Timex watches.) I was going through security, when one of the agents said, ”Mam, we need to speak you," as he gingerly held my laptop. I stepped aside. (Why do you always look guilty, even when you're not - or at least not for purposes of the current instance?) “Mam, is this a lap top?” he asked. “Yes, sir,” I replied. “I’m afraid it is not heavy enough to be a computer.” He said as he handed it to me and asked me to turn it on. He stepped back, as if he expected it to explode. I powered it on and it quickly booted up. 

He looked puzzled. “Hm,” he said with his hand on his jaw. “Larry,” he called to one of his buddies, “You gotta see this.” “And, how much does it weigh?” he asked? Seemed these beauties were designed to survive combat and the sands of Iraq but not get through security at an airport. I guess they weren’t interested in the sewing scissors I forgot to remove from my carry on.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hey you - out there?

As of this morning I have been writing this Blog for a month. Now if you have never written a Blog, it is something akin to singing in a public shower. You never know who is listening or what they think. Some readers may be terribly impressed and come back for more. Some may be highly insulted and run away. Some may just stay for the fun of it (as in I am making a fool of myself and they want to see the train wreck.)

Now, friends of mine have politely commented on my stories (and I greatly appreciate the recognition - after all you would not have even known about the Blog had it not been for my shameless self promotion - you know those emails I sent asking you to look at it.) Of course there is always analytical software that tracks numbers of visits, unique visits, length of time on pages. . . heck, I even know what browser folks use. But I don't really know who reads this and who cares.

The bottom line is, no matter what, I will continue writing (singing to myself) because I enjoy it and I get a chuckle out of reliving all these insane moments of my life - and YES they are all true. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. I now carry a small journal with me at all times to jot down thoughts I have. Something will bring to mind another funny thing in my past and I will make a quick note so later on I can expound upon it. I have a regular cast of characters to draw upon. And there are more, I just haven't gotten there yet.

Thank you for taking the time to read my posts. Even though, I am never sure someone will read the Blog, I have faith. You know "If you build it, they will come" type faith. And, my Darling Husband hasn't left me yet. (Although I don't think he reads it.) I have had a few comments - you know at the bottom of each post where it says "Comment" and you can click on it. I only ask a few things of you if you are reading it, I hope you enjoy it, take no offense (because none is ever intended), and please, take a moment to share your thoughts with a comment or two. Even if I cannot carry a tune, just let me know you hear the words to the song.

PS This is not my daily post. If you have not already read it, another entry was posted earlier this morning and follows this one.

Jr League

One of Mama’s life’s ambitions was to make sure that I got in the Junior Service League. To me, it really didn’t matter. As far as I was concerned, I had survived sorority rush and my mother’s dream wedding, so why endure more pain.
One day out of the blue I get this phone call from a lady (of society) who (in a rather unfriendly tone I must say) inquires as to why I have not replied to my invitation to join the service league. I politely explain that I was unaware that I had received such an invitation. She quickly tells me, not only has one been issued, it was written, sent more than a week ago, and apparently the luncheon with the grandpoo –pahs is tomorrow - introducing all the new “little leaquers”. Obviously, I was already receiving demerits in the “knows how to correctly write a prompt response” column. And I wanted to tell her, that if in fact I had received her note, and had in fact decided to accept their invitation, that a proper note on my engraved stationary would have been sent in return mail.
I could tell by the tone of her voice that she thought I was just raised in a barn and most likely got the note and just didn’t know what the Junior Service League was. In her mind – what a waste. So she, in her own (haughty) way, issued me an oral invitation on the phone, and I could tell that she expected an immediate reply. Knowing that I had little choice now - I replied, “Why, yes, I would be delighted.” And then gave her my correct address. Next, I made the phone call I almost dreaded – to my mother. And was not disappointed by her glee. She had achieved her trifecta.
The luncheon the next day was everything, and more than I thought it would be. The new invitees were herded before the crowd of older and current members and introduced. Your pedigree and heritage, should you have one, was announced. My introduction was short. Then it was explained, that we were not truly members, we had a year to prove ourselves worthy as “provisional” members before full membership was bestowed upon us. (I guess that part was in the “fine print” at the bottom of the written invitation I did not receive.) We were introduced to the member who would gently guide us through our provisional year. Great - been here – done this – got the jersey.
Well to make a long story – short, I made it through several months before it was clear that although the league was trying to reach out to working and professional women, when you have your meetings during the day and the general attitude is “League First – with a Smile”, they didn’t get it. My leader’s comment was that perhaps we weren’t being flexible. My response was perhaps they were not in the real world. There was no way to balance my life, my job, and this organization. So I politely, with a proper note (on my engraved stationary), resigned. I feared telling my mother – then I thought about it. She had always wanted me to “get in”. She never said anything about “staying in.” I could still politely check this off her list.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The House of Coty

What is it about little old ladies and dusting powder? I never quite understood but I do know that my Aunt Kat could have been called the "Powder Queen". She loved dusting powder, the kind with a big fluffy powder puff - and only one kind - Emeraude by Coty. (But don't ask, I don't know the story there.)

When she moved and we went to pack everything in her house, there was one room with so much powder in it, it looked like either it had snowed or a cocaine cutting room had exploded. Even though I would like to think she lived on the edge, somehow the sweet smell of Emeraude told the story. The light white coating was on everything - the furniture, the bed, the curtains - but most dangerously- the floor. It was clear to us that she would stand in the room and dust herself liberally daily, the only question was - how much powder actually made it on her versus the room.

If you are not familiar with Emeraude it is described (and I quote) "Launched by the design house of Coty in 1921, Emeraude is classified as a refined, oriental fragrance. This feminine scent possesses a blend of jasmine, orange, and other citrus florals. Ending with spices and sandalwood. It is recommended for evening wear." However, by the late 70's its popularity had faded. By 1990, it was almost impossible to find. I know because I was often sent out to seek and procure more. Anytime she was close to running out, Aunt Kat would come close to panic.

Being the practical one, I decided that if we couldn't find the real thing certainly another fragrance would satisfy her. But no can do! I brought her boxes of Channel Powder, Chloe Powder, Youth Dew. . . but Aunt Kat would have none of it. She only wanted Emeraude. Every once in a while, I would be in an older drugstore and on the back of a shelf - voila - there would be an elusive box of Emeraude, I would quickly buy it and go present my find to Aunt Kat. She was always very excited and appreciative. "If they only knew how good it makes you feel, they would sell more," she used to say.

She passed away in 1999 and to this day, I do not see a box of Emeraude without thinking of her. Just yesterday, I was reading an advertisement in a magazine about the comeback of the House of Coty and Emeraude "with its refined fragrance of jasmine and orange." Aunt Kat, I hope you are listening - maybe they finally figured it out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Predisposed to be an Old Maid?

Growing up, I was confused and scared. I had an old maid aunt on each side of the family. The future did not bode well for me. To make things worse, both were eccentric, each uniquely so. The way I saw it, I was doomed.

My mother's sister lived in Boston while she was getting her (first) master's degree at Harvard. My Dad said she was never right after that. It seemed every summer when I went to stay with my grandparents, my aunt was at some different school, in a different place. Once it was Oxford (as in England) for some degree. I never got the full story on that. All I know was the words "high faluten" and "pretentious'" were used in the description. The next location I heard about was the University of Colorado, seemed she needed to get her second master's (in "God's know what" - my mother's term for that degree). After a year or so out west she moved on to the University of Michigan for her Doctorate. Somewhere in all this she was back at Duke (her undergraduate Alma mater) getting some additional hours toward another degree in some unknown esoteric field. Finally she moved home with 2 masters degrees and a doctorate, declared she was unemployed, and that she could not find a job.

My grandparents, who had funded her rather extensive education just wanted her out of the house. Now in their late 60's they very much enjoyed the empty nest. She had continued to come home for visits and holidays during her tour of the various universities, and that was OK, but it never dawned on them, that their investment was going to be the egg back in the nest.

On the other side, my father's sister was 13 years old when he was born and had helped raise him. She never left home - as in never. She went to work for the phone company when she was 17 and stayed there for 40 years until she retired. Then she cared for my grandmother until granny died. Her life consisted of work, family, church, and bridge. She was prim and proper - think white gloves, a pink dress, and a Sunday hat. She was a lot of fun because she doted on me and my brother - we could do no wrong. But she could have lived in the 19th century (with the exception of the telephone) and never known the difference.

Between the two of them, I never knew either of them to have a date, escort, or even talk with a man. My mother always said her sister was "too educated" for anyone - who would have her? There were always whispers of a lost true love my father's sister had when she was young (I never knew the details and Lord knows it was not something you asked about.)

So here I was, looking at the prospects (and the genetic predisposition) of either being a roaming student unable to find work or a true spinster, stuck in the 19th century, never to leave home. As a child, at this point, I hoped I was adopted.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fall Colors and New Shoes

The change of seasons means one thing: that ritual of bringing the fall clothes out of the attic and replacing them with the summer clothes. (And hoping they fit.) Even though it is still hot as heck outside, the calendar says it is past Labor Day and down here one wouldn't be caught dead in white (even very light beige) or pastels and if you have on navy, it best not have white trim. The trick is finding fall colors in light weight sweaters, so being proper doesn't kill you.

My Aunt Kat was a fashionable lady in her day (gloves, hat, the whole ensemble), but as she got older her daily activity limited her wardrobe. Now what does a fashion conscious lady do at this point? You don't get outside so you can't talk anyone into letting you get new clothes each season. Even playing Bingo, you can't justify a new purse. Because you are mainly restricted to a wheelchair and when you can walk, your walking is limited, they make you wear those God forsaken SAS shoes.

Now Aunt Kat was not going to defeated here so she calls me up one September afternoon and says she needs to go shoe shopping. "Shoe shopping?" I say, knowing we just bought her SAS shoes this summer and they can't have that much wear, since her walking is so limited. "Well, it's fall and the shoes we bought this summer are white." She had a point, I couldn't argue with her on that one. So off we went to the SAS store. (Which, if you don't know stands for San Antonio Shoemakers.) We came home with a new pair of brown shoes, exactly like the white ones, just in a stylist fall color. She was thrilled. And, it was nice to see her happy.

In December, I got another call. "It's time to get shoes." I knew where this was going. So off we went on an excursion - you guessed it - to the SAS store for a black pair for the winter. She was happy and I knew she now had her complete shoe wardrobe.

Well, that was until just before Easter, when I got another call. "We need to go shopping." Knowing that she had white shoes from the year before, I was curious what this adventure would be about. "For what?", I asked. "My spring shoes", she answered. Thinking she was getting forgetful, I gently reminded her that she already had white shoes. She quickly reminded me they were from last summer. So off we went to the SAS store for a new pair of white shoes, same size, same style. I came home with a happy camper and put the shoe box in the closet on top of the SAS box from the past summer. And so it went, each season, we would go to that store and get a new pair.

It was a joy to spend time with her and it just goes to show, we can age, we can grow infirm, but no true southern woman is ever too old for a new pair of shoes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who knew?

Every once in a while I want to sit my youngest daughter down and say, "you know what? - your mother is not dumb, she does have a life, she was young once, and she does know how to have a good time." I get tired of being accused of being born 50, in a barn, dressed like a hag. In fact the other day I got an email from a friend of mine and it reminded me of my youth and of someone who would shock my daughter.

The one who did not come home for her freshman spring break but decided to head to Lafayette, LA with 5 guys to go to a fraternity party. No, they were not from Lafayette, had never been there, didn't know anyone there. But they got an invitation in the mail to the annual Kappa Sigma "Green Party", inviting their "brothers" from across the country to join them. Why not? I was game. And, no I wasn't even dating any of these guys. I told my Dad that some girls were going. (Well they were. They just happened to be in another car - that left a day earlier - and were taking 2 days to get there. We were driving straight through the night!- a minor detail.) Cajun food, zydeco music, lots of beer, great people. It was the first time I had seen a sofa on the roof of a house - with people sitting on it. This was 2 years before Animal House.

Or the one, who with her classmates, hatched the idea that for their senior class trip to Washington, they would wrap their liquor up as birthday presents to help one of their fellow classmates celebrate her birthday that happened to fall while on the trip. That way they could sneak their illicit bottles on the bus in colorful paper in front of the chaperons and not have to justify anything coming home, since their friend had opened "her packages" on the trip.

Or the one who dated the son of someone reputed to be in mob, simply because he had a "great car" and unbeknowest to her, her father always knew where she was because the police had a tail on him at all times.

I just wouldn't know where to start.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Birthday Surprises

When I was in high school any afternoon, you could find my friends and me after school at the Country Club playing tennis and generally "hanging out". Not that we were lati-da, but in our small town there was not much else to do. Besides, my dad would pay my bar tab. His attitude was "at least I know who you are drinking with." Seemed reasonable to me.

My dad was a great party planner. He had that reputation with my friends from an early age. When I was 8 years old, he threw a Halloween party for me that included a cauldron complete with dry ice and scary games in a darkened basement with ghoulish voices howling in the background. Not only was his imagination limitless, he would go to extremes to make it happen. My 15th birthday comes to mind. Dad planned this great surprise dinner party at the Country Club. He managed to invite 12 or so of my best friends and pull the entire deal off without me having a clue. It was a great event. A large time was had by all.

He was so proud of himself. And he got a lot of credit for this accomplishment. One of his friends remarked to him that he went to lot of effort to plan the event. His reply was that he had always wanted to do something for his daughter's "Sweet 15" birthday. His friend asked quizzically, "Don't you mean 'Sweet 16' like the song?"

He was not phased. The following year, he did the exact same thing for my 16th birthday - same guest list, same place, same time. Now that was truly a surprise.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How did we ever survive?

I was listening to Jeff Foxworthy last night and he brought up a point I often wonder about. How did our generation survive to adulthood? - or least the majority of us. He said he could recall riding all the way to Florida lying in the back window of the family sedan.

When I was three, I can clearly remember my mother flinging her right arm in front of me as I stood on the front seat next to her. She was coming to an abrupt stop and wanted to keep me from flying into the dashboard. I never thought of her as strong, but she prevented it every time. That would probably hurt given the dashboard in those days was solid metal! Let's see how many laws we have broken here!

Best to my recollection I survived glass baby bottles, baby powder with talc, red food (ie red food coloring), lead paint, mercury fillings, my brother's "Creepy Crawler Maker" (remember those - an open hot plate), bicycles with no helmets, Slip and Slides, and processed food at an early age. There is no doubt that children born today are being brought up in a much safer and cleaner world than we were, but sometimes it goes to the extreme. I am a firm believer in car seats and seat belts - no question there. Bike helmets - yes. No red food - maybe.

I see these children in the shopping carts at the market protected by shopping cart covers and in my mind all I can imagine is their backyards covered with sheets so they won't get dirty or contract some Bungee-Bungee disease that their parents read on some website their backyard could harbor. But at some point they have to be exposed to the real world. Is today's world that much worse than the one we were reared in? Or is it too much information? Was my mother's ignorance my bliss?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ah, The Magnolias

My mother has many talents - seriously. She is a seamstress. (She made my all my school clothes until I went into total revolt.) She is a great cook. (Unfortunately, she never let me in the kitchen, so I never learned from her.) But most of all she is a very talented artist. (And, she failed to pass that gene on to me.) As I was growing up she would dabble in oils, a camellia here, a sea scene there, but her pes des resistance was a project she undertook as a present to my father in celebration of their 15th wedding anniversary. This mission of hers took a year to complete and turned our dining room into her private studio for that entire time. According to her - the light was right. Knowing her proclivity for the bottle, it was close to the liquor cabinet and the ice in the refrigerator.

The subject of the picture was Magnolias and it was large - 3 feet by 5 feet. So for a year she would go in and out of the dining room carrying various magazine articles on Magnolia grandiflora. The dining room table was covered with an oil cloth and she had an assortment of different tubes of paints and linseed oil. She would bring leaves and branches in to make sure she had the texture correct and in June the room had the delightful fragrance of the blossoms themselves as she refreshed her vases daily.

This was all behind closed doors - we were not allowed in. Once I crept in to survey her progress. There it was, this huge canvas, the background in dark gray with the beginnings of the leaves and branches. This was going to take a while. And it did, but eventually it was completed and on the back, she wrote in pencil, "To My Husband, Happy 15th Anniversary, With Love" and presented it to him. He was touched by the gift, she was proud of her work, I was thrilled the ordeal was over and we could have our dining room back. The picture went on the living room wall and our life went on.

Fast forward 20 years - during their divorce (our most recent unpleasantness). In one of her moments of non-sense, my mother demanded the Magnolia painting. She said it was her work and she was entitled to it. My father reminded her that it was a gift from her and he had her hand writing on the back to prove it. The Magnolia went to him. That very afternoon, he showed up at my front door with the painting. "I never want to see this again", he said as he handed it to me and left. I always liked the painting, so I put in on my dining room wall.

As many times as she was in and out of my house, my mother never commented on the painting. It was hard to miss. Most people don't have an original oil painting of that size hanging in their dining room. Then one day, she stopped and looked at it, and then looked at me. "When did you get that?" she asked.With that I knew her battle was over, my mother was back, and I was thrilled.