Do You Believe In Magic?

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Before Hardee’s enlisted Paris Hilton to hawk its hamburgers and fries, the chain, which first appeared on my radar in the early 1970s, employed the talents of the winsome Gilbert Giddyup, the company’s chaps wearing answer to Ronald McDonald. Gilbert failed to stir my imagination since I was a mature thirteen year old, but Jenny, my baby sister, adored him. Mesmerized any time she saw him on television, she chattered about him incessantly. When she found out that Gilbert would be making a special appearance at  Hardee’s in Savannah, she launched a relentless campaign to meet her new idol. I didn’t care whether she got her way or not until I learned that the whole family would be traveling in our lovely station wagon with the faux wood grain panels to usher Jenny into the sacred presence.

Once we arrived and ordered our dinner, Mama invited Jenny to embark upon her long-awaited rendezvous with Gilbert, but Jenny wouldn’t budge. She was plastered to the corner of the booth with a panicked look in her eye. You would have thought Gilbert was going to murder her right there on the polished tile floor. I laughed to myself about the cosmic irony of the whole scenario until I saw Mama’s facial expression change, She had an idea. With a smooth, dulcet tone, Mama inveigled, “Angie, go speak to Gilbert Giddyup so that Jenny won’t be so afraid.” What? I couldn’t wade into the rout of kindergarteners engulfing Gilbert in front of everybody. I was sporting my white patent leather knee boots and a genuine puka shell necklace from Hawaii. I was wearing lip gloss, for Pete’s sake. “But Mama, I…pleeeeease don’t make me!” Daddy shot me a sympathetic but firm look, and off I went. Poor Gilbert, whose fake mustache was beginning to slip, was sweating profusely. He extended a warm paw, which I started to shake, but that wasn’t good enough. “Sit in his lap for a picture so Jenny will do it,” Mama called at top volume. I complied and then scooted back to our booth with my head down.

Mama looked sweetly at Jenny and intoned, “Now it’s your turn! Go make a picture with Gilbert. He’s so nice!” Jenny remained unconvinced. She violently shook her head and began pulling at the ribbon around one of her pig tails while pretending not to hear. Great. I had sacrificed my dignity for nothing. The stand off went on for minutes until Mama decided she had had enough. Jenny had dragged us all to Savannah for one purpose, and Mama wasn’t about to let her miss this opportunity only to listen to her cry all the way home because she hadn’t talked to her favorite cowhand. A bit of immersion therapy was in order.Mama bent over so that she and Jenny were eye to eye , put her index finger under Jenny’s chin, and firmly stated, ” Jenny, you are GOING to speak to Gilbert Giddyup!” Those words were like an incantation. They cast a spell over my unwilling baby sister, impelling her to Gilbert’s side for a brief conversation, and that was that.


Several months later, the family, again in our station wagon, drove through Cherokee, North Carolina on the way home from New York. I was glad that Daddy didn’t stop because Mama had made noise about going to see “Unto These Hills,” an outdoor pageant designed for tourists, which no one else cared to see.  On every corner in town,  young Native American men and women dressed in traditional clothing held signs that read “Have Your Picture Made With an Indian–$1.00.”  “Look, Tab! We could have our picture made with an Indian,” Mama exclaimed while Daddy accelerated and pretended not to hear. It was a close call. About five miles past Cherokee, Jenny began to whine in Mama’s ear, ” I wanted to have my picture made with an Indian.” Mama tapped Daddy’s shoulder and said, “Tab, Jenny wants to take a picture with an Indian.” Without a word, Daddy squealed the tires as he made a quick u-turn, and we drove back to town. Stopping abruptly at the first corner in sight, Daddy got out and paid a handsome Native American teen the required fee. Mama smiled brightly and opened the back door for Jenny. When would my mother ever learn? Jenny was again plastered to her seat with no intention of budging. I just knew that within minutes I would be drafted into demonstrating the young man’s benign intentions, but  this time Mama wasn’t inclined to be patient. She looked into Jenny’s eyes and worked her magic: “Jenny, you are GOING to talk to the Indian.” She then plucked Jenny from the car and marched her to the corner. Minutes later, Mama smiled with triumph as we retraced our path out of town, and that was that.

Almost fifteen years later, my oldest son, T.J., found out that his idol, He Man, was going to drop by Belk at Oglethorpe Mall, along with the hero’s pal Shera and trusty mount, Battle Cat. I heard nothing but He Man until the sultry July morning of the exhibit. I dropped Tab off  with Joe’s mother and made the pilgrimage to Belk with T.J., who was so  excited that he threatened to spin out of control. When we arrived, I saw that the line for the event stretched halfway around the mall, but I had promised. My son burbled happily about seeing He Man while I got so hot that I began to see spots. When we finally got inside, I saw the expression on T.J.’s face change. To his dismay, he learned that He Man’s nemesis, the evil Skeletor, had also decided to hang out at Belk that morning.

T.J. began to bridle while I looked at him in disbelief. Clutching at my skirt, he tried to pull me out of line. I gaped at him and spoke in an exasperated staccato: “What on earth is the matter with you?  Are you kidding me?  We have stood in the sun for hours because YOU wanted to see He Man. This is all you’ve talked about for a week! Those are people in costumes. They are not going to hurt you. I wouldn’t put you in danger. See? All of those other kids walked over, and nobody bothered them. I am going to be holding your hand the whole time!” No matter what I said or how I said it, T.J. would not be persuaded. On the verge of despair, I suddenly remembered Mama’s incantation of old. Did it retain its enchanting properties? Would it work as well on my boy as it had on Jenny? Could I mimic Mama’s tone, which had  undoubtedly influenced the spell?  I had to try. I bent over, looked deeply into my son’s eyes, put my finger under his chin, and whispered, ” T.J., you are GOING to talk to He Man.”  Voila! My little guy glided past the stage, nodded politely at his idol, and then exclaimed, ” Mom, I did it! Can I have a toy?” And that was that.

She Ain’t Heavy. She’s My Sister.

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In December of my senior year in high school, my boyfriend, a freshman at Georgia Southern, broke up with me. College women were more appealing, I suppose. Of course, I was sad about the break-up itself, but I was positively horrified by the prospect of going to the upcoming Christmas dance, which was only three days away,  by myself. I had no way of knowing that showing up with a couple of girlfriends instead of a date would facilitate my introduction to the boy I eventually married. All I could think of was what a loser I was going to be while hovering around the punch bowl and waiting for someone to ask me to dance when almost everybody I knew would be occupied with a date. I wanted to skip it, but my class had planned the event to capitalize upon the holiday basketball tournament our school was hosting. We needed money for our class trip, and everyone who planned to go on the trip was expected to help. I had to be there.

With the night of the event drawing nearer, I became more and more vociferous with my complaints about being dateless for the dance. It was not a formal dance such as the prom but a casual drop by scheduled after a ball game. Anyone could attend. Others who did not have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend would show up with friends, but in the throes of  a mental drama for which I was the tragic heroine, I had worked myself into quite a frenzy. Knowing that I was too shy to ask someone else to go myself, especially on such short notice, my parents got involved. They had never before intervened in this area of my life, but my dread of “going stag” filled them with sympathy and prodded them to action. Daddy called a young man several years older than I whom he knew in a context that shall remain nameless and invited him to take me to the dance. At the time nothing seemed more humiliating than having no date, but in retrospect, I think having my daddy call someone out of the blue to arrange an escort because I was apparently unable to get one for myself was worse. The young man, whom I will call Donny, had to decline the invitation because of a prior obligation but offered to come over the evening before the dance and take me to the tournament’s opening night instead. Our quasi-date was not  a total waste of my time. At least my ex-boyfriend was there to see that I had moved on in a matter of days. Still, I don’t think Donny was any more impressed than I was. We did not click at all. In fact, you might call it a mutual unattraction. I was relieved when he said goodnight, and he never called again, so that was that. I met my husband at the dance the next night and never looked back.

On a quiet Saturday afternoon months later, I was in the kitchen baking toll house cookies for my mother, who was supposed to provide several dozen for a party that evening. Because Joe was picking me up at 7:30 for a date, I was waiting until late afternoon to wash my hair, put on make up, and dress. I had had no reason to leave the house that day. During my adolescence I was capable of sleeping until nearly noon when afforded the opportunity, so that had taken the morning. I had several batches of cookies to finish that afternoon before I could hit the shower, so I had to get busy as soon as I got up. I was wearing old jeans dusted with flour and a tee shirt smudged with cookie dough, my hair was pulled back in a careless ponytail, which kept it out of the way but did nothing to disguise the fact that I needed to shampoo, my eyes were puffy from excessive sleep, and I wore no make up at all, not even a coat of mascara. 

I had just checked on a pan of cookies that had about ten minutes to go when I heard a knock at the back door. I scurried out of the kitchen and down the hall while Kelly, who was also in the kitchen, grudgingly answered the door. I heard a man say, “Is your dad home?” He sounded like Mr. J.,  one of Daddy’s colleagues. Rats! He would hang out in the kitchen and bother me with his attempts to be hip. He’d try to “rap” with me…as if. I didn’t feel like chatting with anyone, and I certainly didn’t care for someone outside the family, especially a man, to see me in such a state.  In fact, my mother found my dread of being seen in public unless I had freshly washed hair and full makeup quite annoying. She often complained, “A few years ago I couldn’t get you to take a bath, and now you won’t leave the house without looking like you just stepped out of the band box!” I had no idea what a band box was, but I got her point.

After waiting in the den for a few minutes, I thought about the cookies. They had been in long enough. If they didn’t come out in a minute or two, they would be too brown. I would have to make more dough, and that portended twin evils: going to the store for more ingredients in my current state and having too little time to get ready for my date, which was the most important thing in my world at the time. Creeping back down the hall toward the kitchen, I saw Kelly standing silently at the counter, and I heard no other conversation. Hooray! It sounded as if Mr. J. had left, and the coast was clear. I stalked back through the door snorting with all the contempt I could muster. “Is he gone YET?” I thought it was a rhetorical question until I cleared a small partition and looked toward the kitchen table to see none other than Donny sitting there with a quizzical look on his face.

I’d never been especially athletic or agile, but somehow I managed to throw my hands in the air, shriek, leap a foot off the floor, and spin my body in the opposite direction mid-air. The clown from It could not have elicited a more vehement response. I stumbled toward the seclusion of the den in a daze. I had made a complete fool of myself. The heat coming from my face told me that I was blushing furiously. Well, at least I didn’t ever have to see him again…or did I? I suddenly remembered the cookies. They had to come out immediately. 

I tiptoed back toward the kitchen and waved to get Kelly’s attention. Preternaturally calm, she looked like a Stepford  wife. She glanced toward me and smiled with a self-satisfied serenity that I couldn’t quite comprehend.  I pointed emphatically at the oven and mouthed, “Take the cookies out of the oven!” Retaining her calm demeanor and Mona Lisa smile, she  folded her arms, looked into my frantic eyes, and shook her head. I tried again. “TAKE THE COOKIES OUT OF THE OVEN, PLEEEEEASE!!!” I could feel my face contorting as I exaggerated the silent words. Nothing doing. The third time, I gritted my teeth. Why wouldn’t Kelly cooperate? She  turned her back toward me and hummed softly to herself. Finally, I realized that I had no choice. I trudged to the oven, my limp ponytail lying forlornly against my crimson neck, snatched the pan from the oven, and gave Donny what I hoped was a nonchalant, woman of the world, devil may care smile. Evincing a casual air, I explained that I had thought he was somebody else–and I truly had–but he just sat there with an amused smirk on his face as he watched me struggle futilely to extricate myself from the arena of shame. The more I babbled, the more ridiculous I felt, and despite my protests to the contrary, he obviously believed  I was lying about thinking he was the elusive Mr. J. 

Oblivious to the idiocy his daughters were practicing in the presence of a guest, Daddy came in and escorted Donny to his study for a talk. As soon as they cleared the room, my eyes turned to slits of rage. I used my entire repertoire of insults to tell Kelly what I thought of her. I think I even tossed out a few derisive remarks about her boyfriend, which was our way of hitting below the belt. Honestly, I can’t remember what her reasons for refusing to help me that day were, but they were not nearly good enough to assuage my fury. I could not stand her, not only for exposing me to unnecessary humiliation, but also for refusing to scream back. She had never backed away from a fight, so why was she retreating into a shell of non-aggression and silence when I was  in most need of a cathartic knock down drag out? The truth was that she didn’t need to fight back because she had delivered the decisive blow before I even knew we were fighting. All I could do was swing wildly while she floated like a butterfly after stinging like a bee. Your anger has unbalanced you, Grasshopper! After telling her that I would never speak to her again, I stormed upstairs to take a shower. Of course, I eventually got the opportunity to pay her back for her treachery, but not that Saturday.

Years passed before I could glance at a chocolate chip cookie without wanting to pinch Kelly for her remorseless obstinance that day.  Of course, the Cookie Mutiny of ’77 was not our first or last skirmish, but she and I grew up to become best friends who are fiercely protective of each other.  Despite all of the arguments and annoyances of our childhood and teen years, I have her back, and she has mine. It’s a sister thing. Unless you have one, you wouldn’t understand.

Delorease and Lennie Mae’s Big Adventure (Part Two)

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Our monthly trips to Vidalia had become a routine when I learned that shopping with two octogenarians is far more complicated than shopping with one. On a spring afternoon when a thunderstorm was threatening, Granny called with news about our trip: “Lennie Mae is in town for a few days. She’s staying at Marcella’s. I think she’d love Nocksu’s (Granny’s pronunciation of Natsu), don’t you? Marcella don’t feel like going, but Lennie Mae does. I’ll pick you up, and then we’ll go get her.” I told her that I would be ready and called Natsu to change our reservation.

At 6:00 p.m. sharp, Granny wheeled into the driveway. I scrambled to the car and took the driver’s seat. We then drove to Aunt Marcella’s, where Granny instructed me to blow the horn despite my offer to go to the door. Smiling agreeably, Aunt Lennie Mae slowly emerged and ambled to the car with the assistance of a borrowed cane. I jumped out to help her in, and off we went. I listened with awe as the two of them fluidly shifted from topic to completely unrelated topic without missing a beat. The weather, Aunt Marcella’s ill mood, the number of cakes Granny intended to bake after stocking up on Parkay and cream cheese that evening, Mrs. Y’s terrible breath, the person who sang off key at church, and the latest episode of The Millionaire (Granny’s name for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?) all made the cut.

Dinner at Natsu was relatively uneventful, but business picked up when we got to Wal Mart. I let the two of them out at the entrance and drove off to find a space. When I walked in, I saw Granny standing with her hands on her hips and Aunt Lennie Mae sitting at a booth inside MacDonald’s. The drive over and dinner had taken the starch out of my aunt, and she didn’t feel like shopping. Granny ordered her “not to go nowhere,” grabbed my aunt’s modest grocery list, looked at me, and said, “Come on! She’ll be all right.” I started to walk away when I heard Granny shout, “Hold it!” The words “you are under arrest” did not follow, but they may as well have. She fumbled in her purse for a few moments before she retrieved three crumpled shopping lists, which she thrust, along with Aunt Lennie Mae’s, into my hand. She had offered to pick up items for Mama, Aunt Marcella, and Aunt Marcella’s neighbor, Mrs. C., who asked only for a package of Depends, but delegated the task of gathering these items, which had to be kept separate, to me. Including my own things, I would have five different orders in my cart. Great.

By  the time we were through shopping, my cart threatened to overflow. Granny had picked up quite a few goods too. We were wheeling into the aisle with the shortest line when Granny declared, “We’ve got to have some help. We can’t get all of this to the car. I’m going to ask somebody.” I tried to explain that Wal Mart does not have bag boys, but she did not hear a word. Instead, she scanned the check out area for prospects. Her gaze settled on a young African-American man who was chatting up a cashier, and I saw the wheels turning.

“Oh, Granny, no! That guy doesn’t work here. He’s a customer. You can’t ask him to help us load the car.”

“Sure I can. He won’t mind. I’ll pay him. Here, go ask him and give him this five dollar bill. He’ll be glad to help.”

“No ma’am. I can’t do that. Let me get t he buggies to the car.”

“You can’t.”

“Yes ma’am. Let me do it! I promise I can do it.”

I didn’t know how I was going to manage two buggies since Granny was apparently not going to help with hers, but I did know that I was not about to humiliate myself or anyone else by asking that young man to play Hoke to Granny’s Miss Daisy.  I convinced her to ask the cashier if someone who actually worked there might assist us, but after waiting ten minutes for the stock boy the cashier had paged to show up,  Granny became agitated. That is when I boldly grabbed the carts, pushing one with my right hand and pulling the other with my left. “Granny, go get Aunt Lennie Mae and wait inside the front door. I am going to load the car and pick you up.” I quickly moved away before she could stop me.

When I approached the door, I saw to my dismay that the storm had caught up with us. It was punishing the parking lot with torrential rain and powerful winds. I had come too far to stop though. I ducked my head and scooted to the car as quickly as I could. I began to sling the bags into the trunk when I remembered that counting Granny’s, I had six orders that had to be kept apart. Rain was pouring down my neck as lightning flashed overhead, but somehow I got the slippery bags loaded and pulled to the door. I jumped out to help Aunt Lennie Mae into the car when Granny yelled, “Hold it! I can’t find my rain bonnet, and Melva ordered it special for me.” I could not believe it. I had an idling Cadillac whose rear end threatened to scrape the ground with the weight of our purchases blocking the entrance, an eighty-eight year old aunt tottering into the rainy night on a cane, and the makings of an impromptu wet t-shirt contest on my hands, and she wouldn’t leave without her $1.69 rain bonnet? The nearest cashier stared blankly when Granny asked her to announce that someone had lost a rain bonnet. I thought my grandmother might make a scene because she was not used to being ignored, but  Granny began retracing her steps instead and handing out dollar bills to everyone she passed to enlist help. Thankfully, someone  quickly found it so that we could leave.

Finally, I managed to get both ladies into the car. I couldn’t get out of Dodge fast enough. Rivulets of mascara stained rain drops dripped from my chin as I squealed on to the highway, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get home to a hot shower and soft bed as soon as possible. That’s when Granny said, “Hold it! Did you get them Depends?” Oh no. I had forgotten Mrs. C.’s one request. “What does she want them old pads for anyway?” Granny asked. Aunt Lennie Mae, retorted, “Delorease, she needs them. We can’t go back without them.” Repulsed at the mere thought of going back to Wal Mart, I told them that I would run out to Winn Dixie when we got back to Claxton and get the “pads.” I was certain that the blinding flood through which I was driving while Granny made phone call after phone call on her mounted mobile phone to see if it was raining at home would have stopped by then.

We got to Claxton despite the flashes of lightning that made the world look like a photo negative every thirty seconds or so, and I picked up the Depends. The shopping trip from hell was almost over, but the storm wasn’t. I pulled up at Aunt Marcella’s, helped Aunt Lennie Mae inside, and searched through the packages in the trunk to find those belonging to her and to Aunt Marcella while the rain slid down my neck and under my collar. Meanwhile, Granny, who wasn’t about to sit in silent seclusion while she waited for me to finish, tried to roll down her window and somehow locked the doors instead. She fumbled with various switches and buttons while I remained stranded in the rain. She finally let me back in the car, and I started to pull away when I saw Aunt Lennie Mae stick her head out. I rolled down my window to hear her say, “I left Marcella’s cane in the car…but that’s all right.” I put the car in park, got back out in the pouring rain, and took her the cane. When I got back to the car, Granny had accidentally locked me out again. By the time she figured out how to  let me in, I could have filled a gallon bucket by wringing my shirt.

Next, we stopped at my mother’s to drop off her things. By this time it was after 10:00 p.m. Daddy walked out to help me, and Granny, of course, had to say hello. Pressing buttons in the dark, she locked me out in the rain a third time. Once I got back in and drove over to her house to take her groceries in for her, I was shedding silent tears, which the rain handily disguised. After we put her things away, she drove me home and chattered  obliviously while I unloaded my bags. I thanked her for a lovely evening, stumbled inside, crammed the items requiring refrigeration into my fridge, and struggled to peel my sodden clothing from my skin. I was stepping into the shower when the phone rang. Who on earth would call my house after 10:30?  That’s when I heard Joe shout, “It’s your Granny!” Now what? I wrapped myself in a towel and picked up the receiver.

“Ma’am?”

“What’s the number for Wal Mart?”

“Granny, I don’t know. What’s…?”

“I can’t find my Parkay, and I told Jean Surrency I’d make her a pound cake.”

“Granny, did you look…?”

“It’s not in my things, and Marcella don’t have it. I told Jean Surrency I’d make her a pound cake.”

“Did you call Mama?”

“No, but I need to call Wal Mart and tell them I want my Parkay and cream cheese. I told Jean Surrency I’d make her a pound cake.”

“Granny, we can’t go back over there tonight. Let’s look some more first.”

“But I told Jean Surrency I’d make her…”

“Well, let me look through my things again and call Mama.”

I didn’t have her items, but Mama did, and she had put them in the storage room refrigerator. I called Granny back in triumph to explain that her things were safe and sound in Mama’s refrigerator, from which she could get them in the morning. She responded, ” Well, I told Jean Surrency I’d make her a pound cake tonight, and she’ll be looking for it in the morning.”  Then nothing but expectant silence. I knew what I had to do. I pulled my wet clothes back on and went back out in the rain to get Granny’s Parkay for her. When I pulled up at her house, she opened the back door and seemed to notice my soaked hair and skin for the first time. I felt one large tear roll past my nose when she took the bag from me and exclaimed, ” Why did you want to get out in this weather at 11:00 at night? I’m not in no hurry. I can’t bake a cake this late.  I’m ready to go to bed!”

Not believing my ears, I said, “Because you…Granny, you…I don’t know, Granny.”

“Well, go home and get to bed. You have work tomorrow. I love you.”

“I love you too, Granny. Goodnight.”

Delorease and Lennie Mae’s Big Adventure (Part One)

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Since my blog and I  are not yet world famous, most of you who are reading this post know my maternal grandmother, the inimitable, indomitable Delorease Middleton Parker, who is truly larger than life. Now 95 years old, Granny is not her old self, but when she was, no one in Evans County had a more generous heart or a friendlier attitude toward everyone with whom she came in contact. Granny always loved people, and people loved her back. She was quite outspoken, but there was an innocence to her honesty that distinguished it from that of blunt people who know that their words will likely inflict harm but say them anyway.  What came up came out with no malice aforethought. Her love for her family was fierce and consistent, but she often seemed to agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson about a foolish consistency’s being the hobgoblin of a small mind in other areas. For example, my mother once asked Granny why she had not gone to the altar following a revival sermon on healing, for everyone far and wide knew that Granny’s knees gave her constant trouble. Their conversation went something like this:

“Mama, I thought you might go down to the altar when the preacher prayed for healing tonight.”

“What for, Betty?”

“For your knees, Mama.”

“My knees is fine, Betty. Besides, I couldn’t  kneel. My knees is killin’ me!”

Once Granny’s knees had rendered her incapable of her weekly trips to Savannah for shopping and enjoying her beloved “rub downs,” she had to settle for a monthly trip to Wal Mart in nearby Vidalia to purchase groceries and Wilton cake circles (She was constantly baking pound cakes for sick or elderly neighbors.) instead. I served as her driver and companion, and I will never forget the fun we had together.  Her approach to my house differed tremendously from that which she had favored when I was growing up. If my sisters and I were going anywhere with Granny, we had better be on time. She lived a block from my parents’ house. but we knew the instant she started her car because that was also the moment she began blowing the horn, and she continued to blow until all of us were safely ensconced in her idling car. “Don’t stop laying on the horn until you see the whites of their eyes” was her motto, and she did not deviate.

When we got to our typical destination, Broughton Street, Granny used the horn for a different purpose. Parking in downtown Savannah has never been easy because spaces are so rare, and crack parallel parking skills are a pre-requisite. Not to worry. Watching Granny park was akin to witnessing the painting of a masterpiece. She was the Picasso of parking. Granny could spot a driver getting ready to move like a hawk seeking prey over an open field, and she could wheel her yacht-length Cadillac into the tightest of spaces like butter. I can still hear her charm bracelet jingling and her rings slapping the steering wheel while she outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted all comers who dared to challenge her for a coveted slot in front of Fine’s or Levy’s. By  the time she had to settle for Vidalia, however, she had mellowed a bit, so she saved the horn for the driveway.

Dressed impeccably with just the right jewelry, nail polish, and lip stick, she would drive her big white Cadillac sedan over to pick me up, relinquish the driver’s seat, and settle into a rapid fire conversation that reflected her stream-of consciousness with topical shifts for which there was no warning. I had to think fast to keep up. One minute we were talking about what she planned to take to the covered dish meal at the church on Sunday. The next she was telling me that Mr. X’s new toupee looked perfectly awful and that it was supposed to rain, which was good because her grass looked pitiful.

Once we got to Vidalia, we would first stop for dinner at Natsu Japanese Restaurant. Oh, the friends she could make around a hibachi grill. A loner trying to read a newspaper, a family of six, or  gaggles of noisy teenagers out on their own were all the same to her. She would say, “Hi. I’m Mrs. Parker.” Then she would tell them what she was going to cook for dinner the next day and which “stories” she watched. She saved the account of her knee replacements for last, sort of like dessert. I often blushed while she was talking, especially when I could tell that her listeners were on a date, but somehow all of them fell in love with her before she left. Occasionally, she would send me to the car to get a fruitcake–she never left home without one–for an especially receptive listener, particularly if her new friend remarked kindly upon finding out that her late husband had owned The Claxton Bakery, home of world-famous Claxton Fruitcake.

When we got to Wal Mart, Granny would insist upon two non-negotiable conditions. First, I was to drop her off at the front door. Second, I was to park in a handicapped parking space. I tried to explain to her many times that since I was able-bodied and she was no longer in the vehicle when I parked, I had no right to take a reserved spot. Well, she wasn’t having it. She had a handicapped decal, and we were not going to waste it. She was handicapped, it was her car, and she had every right to use the space. She did sometimes walk back to the car with her buggy to support her, but no one who saw me going in knew that. “But Granny, ” I’d implore, “there are people who will curse you out if they see you use a space when you are clearly not handicapped. Please don’t make me.” Ultimately, I could offend the person with whom I’d be riding home for the night or I could take a chance upon getting blessed out by an irate stranger. I took the second option a few times but felt like such a creep that I  started parking in a regular space, sneaking  back to the car after we were done, and pulling up to the front before she made her exit. This usually worked since she tended to talk to the cashier, the folks behind her,  random shoppers she saw on the way out, and the young men gathering errant carts near the door, whom she tipped with a ready supply of one dollar bills. If she decided to accompany me to the parking lot, I assured her that no handicapped spaces in that section had been available when I parked: “Yes ma’am, I know that several spaces were empty when I dropped you off, but dash it all, others got them before I could get back around, and the ones over there are farther away than the space I got.” Usually, faking Granny out about the status of our parking space on one of our excursions was the most stressful aspect of the trip. Usually….

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Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life!

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The concept of a home garden totally intrigues me. I love the eat local, sustainable movement for several reasons: It makes sense, it reminds us of our connection to Mother Earth, it saves money and other resources, and it offers control over what comes into contact with the food we put in our bodies. That is why I planted a modest home garden, which I affectionately call “The Groovy Garden,” two years ago. The greatest benefit for me, however, has not been physical, economic, or  even aesthetic, though Groovy is lush and colorful at her peak. Rather, placing a humble seed or tiny plant in soil I own to watch the tiny stems develop, unfurl tender leaves, sprout promising buds, and yield an abundance of gorgeous, vibrant vegetables encircled with a dazzling yellow and orange skirt of protective marigolds  is a significant spiritual experience. It reminds me that I am fed from God’s very hand. Of course, eating local in not a new concept to folks around here. Many have a backyard garden, and everybody waits with anticipation for the multitude of roadside vegetable stands to open each spring. I have shelled untold buckets of peas and silked hundreds of ears of silver queen corn since I was a kid. Canning vegetables with Granny and her posse, which included Aunt Marcella, Aunt Lennie Mae, Nina Bradley, Sally Swain, Jean Surrency, Beatrice Small, Ida Mae McKinnon, Bernice Taylor, James Reynolds, and, unfortunately, me on occasion, was an education in several ways, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Jumping into the home garden trend was a bit risky for me because my thumb is not naturally green. In addition, I am a townie, despite the amusement this assertion provides my friend George, who is quick to remind me that I am less than five minutes from the country in my little four-traffic light town. Until two summers ago, I had never cultivated a vegetable, and I am still quite unfamiliar with farm animals, as I disclosed in my opening post. I maintain that it is possible to hail from a tiny rural town in the Deep South and remain unworthy of the designation “country girl.”  I’m still Angie from the block. (George is laughing out loud now.) Need evidence? When I was eighteen, I witnessed a horror that I’ve never forgotten. A very prolific but elusive mama cat had taken up residence at our house several years before and had produced an abundance of kittens for which we had to find homes. We would have had her “fixed” if only we could have caught her, but she maintained a healthy perimeter which no one breached without sending her streaking away like a calico torpedo. She was too smart for a trap too. I walked outside one fine spring afternoon to see Mama C. running in a tight circle instead of running away. Getting closer to her than I ever had before, I saw something furry and dark attached to her…um…undercarriage. Immediately, I flew inside and shrieked for assistance: “HELP! HELP! A rat is holding on to the cat’s behind, and it won’t let goooooo!” From nowhere Daddy emerged, broom in hand, and tore outside to save the kitty. I followed, panting at his heels. Suddenly, he stopped, turned around, dropped the broom, put his hands on his hips, and stared at me the same way Dr. Richter had when during a discussion of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” I answered that an urn is something you sit on.

“How old are you?” Daddy asked.

“Eighteen, but….”

“Have you never seen a cat have kittens before?”

I had not. Except for the pamphlet about our changing bodies that I read when I was thirteen, I had picked up my knowledge of the birds and the bees on the street, and none of that lot had approached reality very closely. Heretofore, Mama C. had had the good taste to do her birthing in private, and our other pets had been spayed or neutered as soon as possible, so how was I supposed to know? Most of our lessons about reproduction at school involved pistils and stamens. Yawn. By the time the teacher got to the interesting part, I had checked out to wander a field of daisies with David Cassidy. I knew all about the birth process on paper, but live action? Not so much. I would have expected to find the cat in a recumbent position at least, not twirling like a dervish for goodness’ sake. We didn’t have youtube back then either, and television was much more circumspect. Today, the average six year old sees more in a week than I had in eighteen years. Again, a discussion for another time.

I do know, however, that God is a marvelous promoter of all life, even to those of us who have no talent for gardening. All it takes is willing hands, healthy seedlings, a bit of soil, and a hopeful heart. He’ll do all the rest. Just look at the pictures of Groovy above  to see what God can do.

Charming Cherry Cobbler

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It’s recipe day! In the interest of truth in advertising,  I must tell you that the illustration is one I found online. We recently purchased a spiffy new digital camera, but I don’t know how to load pictures from it on my computer yet. I selected this photo because the cobbler looks a lot like mine, though I have never made whipped cream that  looks that pretty. Years ago while browsing through a local cookbook, I found Mrs. Martha Odum’s recipe for fruit cobbler. Knowing that in addition to being a fine lady, Mrs. Martha was also a dynamite country cook, I decided to give it a try. I began with a cherry cobbler, but I have used this recipe with canned  peach, blueberry, and blackberry pie fillings as well–one at a time, of course. When Georgia peaches or blueberries are in season, I substitute sweetened fresh fruit for the canned variety. I do not recommend using this crust with apples, not because it won’t work, but because I like a firmer, crumblier crust with apple filling. I must tell you that the simplicity of this recipe, which I adapted slightly by adding extracts and cinnamon, is deceptive. It is fantastic!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 can cherry pie filling

1 cup sugar

1 cup self-rising flour

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. pure almond extract

ground cinnamon

Combine sugar and flour in mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients except for cinnamon and blend well. Spoon mixture, which will be thick, into an 8″x8″ baking dish coated  with non-stick vegetable spray or buttered lightly. Press evenly into dish. Pour canned cherry pie filling over the crust and sprinkle lightly with ground cinnamon. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is evenly brown. If the edges start to get too brown before the center is ready, reduce heat to 325. Cool slightly before serving. You can top it with sweetened whipped cream, but we prefer a healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

*If you use fresh berries or peaches with this recipe, use two cups  of fruit.  Sprinkle fruit liberally with sugar and toss to coat before spreading over crust. If you have time, let the fruit sit in the sugar for a few minutes before using. Omit the cinnamon if you use blueberries or blackberries.

** If you want a thinner, chewier crust, use a larger pan and add a little extra fruit

***If you choose to use margarine instead of butter or imitation extracts instead of pure extracts, you will not get the same results.

Have a great weekend!

I Kicked a Door In, and I Liked It!

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Doors are not our friends, not really. Sure, they look pretty bedecked with wreaths and garlands. They may also protect us from half-hearted intruders in the night and provide critical privacy, but they aren’t happy about it, and it is high time we stop kidding ourselves.  The most apparently innocuous of them are just waiting for the opportunity to humble us. When I fell through my back door last Valentine’s Day and broke my arm, I blamed myself and my raised door mat. This week I found out what the real menace is and intend to call it out in front of the world…or the dozen or so of you who read this blog anyway.

For several months now the lock on our back door’s knob has refused to remain in the unlocked position. We could unlock it from outside with a key, but once we shut the door, the lock reengaged. We could set it to the unlocked position manually from inside, but doing so required concentration, precision, and persistence that could take minutes. Oh, and the planets had to align. If we had anything in one of our hands, forget about it. The problem became so severe that when Joe and I left Tim at home while we went out of town for a few days back in May, I called Tim from the road and insisted that he go to the hardware store that instant to make a spare key  he could hide just in case. Therefore, I should have known better than to tempt fate while in a state of undress, but I like to live on the edge. Often I have gone outside for a few minutes and thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if I got locked out?” The answer is yes.

Around 9:30 Tuesday morning, Joe, who is on vacation this week, left to for his mom’s, which is thirty minutes away, to do her a favor. Taking Tim along to help, Joe said as he walked out the door, “I don’t know how long it might be before I get back. It could be a while.” Not to worry. I needed a quiet morning. After they left, I finished my coffee and began doing tasks around the house. I started to get dressed but decided to take an arm load of wet towels out to the laundry room first. That’s how the whole thing began. After I tossed the towels in the washer, I saw the empty Blue Bell ice cream container I had rinsed and left in the sink the night before. I had saved it to make a frozen treat for my dog as seen on Pinterest. I decided to go ahead with the surprise for Mumford before returning to the other end of the house to dress. Terrible mistake. Clad in a thin summer gown and fuzzy pink bedroom shoes, I walked outside to the freezer to wedge the filled container inside. I then noticed that a couple of the prettiest plants on my patio badly needed a drink. I walked around the corner to give them some water and then started back indoors, ironically thinking, “One day I am going to press my luck, and that door is going to lock me out.” Well one day was here. I noticed that the door did not look ajar as I thought I had left it, but surely nothing could have caused it to catch.Wrong. I tried the knob and discovered the ugly truth. Oh, snap! I was locked out of my house on a hot day with no cell phone or keys, and I was wearing a gown, so I couldn’t just go knock knock  knocking on a neighbor’s door. It could be hours before anyone found me. I kept wishing that Kelly or my parents would drop by unexpectedly, but I knew that they wouldn’t. That happens only when I have frittered away the morning on the computer and let the housework slide. Then I had a more disconcerting thought: What if someone else did drive up and catch me in my gown? The horror!

I ran back and forth, aimlessly waving my arms and exclaiming, “No! PLEASE, LORD! NO! NO!’ That didn’t help. I stared stupidly at Mumford and pleaded, ” I can’t do this!  I CAN’T DO THIS!” He blinked sympathetically and began scratching his left ear. I knew I was in danger of becoming disoriented from the powerful cocktail of heat and fear being forced down my throat when I heard myself exhorting the dog to “do something!” I had to get proactive before it was too late.  I tried the other doors in back, but I already knew they were secure. Both were locked and deadbolted.  Panic akin to that I endured the day I took demerol and wanted to chew my arm off like an animal in a trap to get rid of my splint rose in my chest. Although I was outdoors, I felt trapped in the heat that would only intensify, and not the smallest flutter of hope rushed to my aid. I had no book or magazine to distract me or useful chore I could accomplish in my gown and fluffy slippers. If I could decently cover myself, I could go for help, but…wait a minute! That’s when I hit upon the idea of dumping the dog’s food out of its huge sack and biting armholes through the reinforced bag with my bare teeth. Fred Flintstone worked that look for years, and no one despised  him for it. I abandoned that idea when I saw the random tears in the bag. Possums had obviously sneaked into the storage room for a midnight snack, and  one might still be lurking in there. Pass.

Next I found some matches. Smoke signals! No. German is the only foreign language I have studied. Those episodes of Gilligan’s Island did little to prepare me for this. Maybe I could build a big fire in the fire pit on the patio and prompt the neighbors to call 911. Nah. Everyone would think only that Joe was burning sticks or lawn clippings again, and that still didn’t solve the problem of my attire.  What if I screamed and then quickly ran into a storage room to cover myself? The neighborhood seemed abandoned, unfortunately. I doubted anyone near enough to hear me was home.  Once I quit playing the “if only” game, I decided to try the car door. I typically keep the car locked, but I had to check. It was unlocked!… but now what? I rifled through the glove compartment and console in search of a bonus card I might use to break in…as if. I had never been able to make that work. I then found what I thought would save me…a forgotten car key whose plastic cover with the various remote buttons had broken off. I greedily snatched the remnant of key and put it in the ignition.  Yes! I could drive to my parents’ house and lay on the horn until someone came out to investigate. I was saved!

Not so fast. I had forgotten that the key won’t crank the engine without the sensor housed in the missing plastic cover, which was, you guessed it, inside.  Rats. It would turn on the air conditioner and radio in auxiliary mode, but I couldn’t run those for four or five hours. My battery would die. At this point I got mad and thought, “Why, I oughta go kick that door for doing this to me!” That’s when I remembered that Joe had once  kicked in an elderly neighbor’s door, deadbolt and all, when her worried family couldn’t get her to answer her phone. It was humanly possible, and I had no deadbolt to worry about, just a weathered, malfunctioning door knob. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer of supplication, and kicked underneath the knob with all my might. Oww, oww, oww. I felt an explosion of pain rock my toes and remembered that a traditional kick leading with the tips of the toes was all wrong. I had watched NYPD Blue enough to know better. I tried again with the ball and heel of my foot. Less painful, but nothing. I did it again with a bit less conviction and then retreated to my car for another blast of sanity saving air conditioning. Strengthening my resolve, I decided to try again. Yes, it hurt my heel a little, but no pain, no gain. This time I felt the door give a little…just a little, but it was a start. Finally, I settled into a pattern: kick the door five or six times, follow up by trying to pry it open with whatever I could find–I tried hedge clippers, a scaling knife, a spatula and a spade–and then get back in the car for a cool down and pray some more. On my fourth try, I felt the door loosen significantly. There was no stopping me now. I was going to do this. I am woman! Finally, on the seventh attempt, which adds up to at least thirty-five kicks in worn bedroom slippers, the doorjamb splintered and I limped triumphantly inside. Door –2. Angie–1. I’m gaining on it!

I gave Mumford his icy surprise the next morning and watched with satisfaction while he wagged his tail and enjoyed his treat under a shady tree. The pink phlox and portulaca that had looked so forlorn on Tuesday blazed with color in the background. The deeds of good will that drew me outside to my fate not only made my dog and potted plants happy but also taught me that I could rely upon myself more than I had ever before thought possible. Win, win.