I live in Georgetown (D.C.) where I work in my front garden on nice evenings and watch the people walk by. I see a mix of all the different people who live and work and go to school here. Suited people coming home from work, preppy college students from class, mothers with baby carriages. Every night several stop to pet Mr. Magoo, who has waited for them, waging at the gate. Occasionally a tourist stops to comment on the roses flowing over the iron fence or ask about the history of the house.

But most people pass by unaware of Mr. Magoo, the roses, or me, clacking away on my laptop. They go by oblivious to all but the devices clamped to their ears. They make jolting noises and talk in loud voices to no one I can see. A man cursed, waved his arms, and punched at the air. A woman screamed out a laugh that startled me so that I jumped and snapped my laptop closed. She didn’t take notice.

I imagined what would happen if, by some strange magic, they were whooshed back to Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. It would be a field day for Mary Walcott. She’d have serious witches to burn! “I saw them! They were talking to spirits, yelling at them, laughing at them!”

A mother passed pushing a carriage. She was talking and laughing into her device, paying no attention to the baby who grabbed her toes and gurgled with delight as though she’d just discovered them. Are there matters of greater importance than newly discovered toes?

Some of the kids from the Duke Ellington School For The Arts put on a show for me as they walk to the bus stop, laughing and singing at the top of their voices. But other kids are tuned in to some person not here and seem oblivious to all they pass.



Their experience is so much different from the one I had walking home from Turnerville Elementary School in Prichard, Alabama.



Sometimes I walked with Delilah. But lots of times I was alone. These kids may walk alone but they aren’t alone. And often when they walk with friends they aren’t with friends either.

I didn’t have the sights of Georgetown or Washington, D.C. to look at. Telegraph Road wasn’t a walk through a museum — or maybe it was. The little brick store had aisles stuffed with things to buy or see — jaw-breakers, Japanese fans, tiny bisque or plastic dolls, wax lips, wax bottles filled with cherry, orange or grape flavored juice, Lik-M-Aid, Sugar Daddies, Sugar Babies, and candy sticks. They also had bags of flour and sugar, Sunbeam bread (white of course), fireworks, poppers, and shotgun cartridges. When I had money, I stopped for a Mars Bar or candy cigarettes, or I went on to Tice’s Ice Kreme for a Coke float.




I passed a field where people lived in abandoned railroad cars, and past the John Deere tractor store in a Quonset hut (a building made by setting half of a huge corrugated galvanized steel tube on a cement base and enclosing the ends – easy and cheap, there were a lot of them in the area – even one church in Daphne was in a giant Quonset hut). I wondered why the tractor store was there amidst paper mills and train tracks. On another corner was a cinder block building (the other cheap building material prevalent in the area) that said, “paychecks cashed”. Daddy said it was for poor people. I wondered about that too.


There were only three or four kids living on Petain Street at any given time. So when one was sick or out of town, it was lonely and bored. I had the chance to figure out how to be by myself and get creative in getting myself un-bored. I wrote this about how I filled one of those lonely, boring days.

“Sandra and I were supposed to go roller skating today, but she had to go to her sister’s in Biloxi because her sister’s husband broke his leg, and I lost my skate key again.

I tried to skate anyway but I couldn’t tighten my skates so the front and back kept sliding apart and I’d have to stop skating and push them back together. I put a rubber band around them but it broke and the parts slid away from each other. I fell down and the two ends of the skate swung around on the straps and banged into my ankles, and it hurt.



So I quit skating and went up to Mr. Green’s barbershop on the corner and got a piece Double-Bubble gum. I sat on the wall by the Robinson’s house awhile, read the bubble gum comic and chewed my gum.

Then I went up to Smith’s Grocery, and watched Mr. Smith cut up meat, and practiced my whistling.”



c. 2011 Ruthi Postow

* Skate key: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081216032054AA7IYvu




Breathes there one with soul so dead that he can encounter a two year old child or dog without smiling or laughing….
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonor’d, and unsung.
(apologies to Sir Walter Scott – but his copyright protection ended 200 years ago)       



I think two is the beginning of the very best age for children. From there they get better every day until they until, at their peak, they are the funniest, brightest and most curious creatures on earth. It’s the age before self-consciousness sets in – no guile or



judgment, just ideas, impressions, and wonder. The world is an inviting, interesting and hysterical place to be. No unexpressed emotions. They love, cry, laugh, sing, and whine with enthusiasm rarely seen in adults. They see the silliness of limits and boundaries. They see us in our own absurdity and think we’re comical, not sad.

I have a friend, Owen who’s four now. When he was three, he decided he needed to start paying his own way. He determined the future was in pinecones. He gathered pinecones and took to the sidewalk with his toy microphone to announce, “I’m selling pinecones today. My stand is open and I’m selling

2009 Mackie on beach


pinecones today.” But one day his mom told him they had to go shopping so he couldn’t sell. Committed to communicating with his customers, he took his microphone out and announced, “I’m not selling pinecones today. My stand is here but I’m not selling pinecones today.”

With that early success behind him, Owen is thinking of following the path of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerman. He told his mom, “I’m



finished with school. I’m ready to make some money. I’m ready for a man job.” Then he took his toy lawnmower and mowed the driveway.

Two begins the best age for dogs too. They still have the energy and spontaneity of puppies but they are beginning to throw off the limits. The


world is there to enjoy. There are sand and sea to feel, to jump in, and to try a taste.

By two, dogs have added a few tricks and some social manners as well. Mr. Magoo herds me, grabs a toy and dares me to take it, and fights for a knotted rope, but he has other interests as well. He loves to go antiquing with me.



Store owners welcome Mr. Magoo because his shop manners put to shame many adult shoppers. When I lay his leash on his back, he lays down and stays there till I’m through looking (I taught him that!). When he stands at the counter to negotiate my purchases with the owner, I promise you I get a better deal.

Isn’t the world beautiful when we can experience it through the senses of Mr. Magoo and Owen?


I woke up late this morning. Outside my bedroom window, I could see the red sun had already come up and streaked the clouds a fiery salmon. I got up and looked down on my garden and thought what a long way this is from Petain Street, the red-dirt street in Prichard, a paper mill town in Mobile County where I grew up. As far back as I can remember, my one goal, pushed by my Daddy, was to get off Petain Street, to get out of Prichard.

Petain Street today. My house was where the black mailbox stands.

Petain Street looks much the same -- except it was paved with Alabama red clay when I was a child

Correspondingly, my biggest fear was that I would not get off of Petain Street or out of Prichard.

That’s the kind of fear that makes for success. It drives you to keep going, milestone after milestone, because you can never get far enough away. It’s one of the themes of the book I’d get published if I could write a query letter.

A while back I had a dream that took me back to blue-collar Prichard and into the middle of the life I’d been afraid could happen to me. It was a dream I couldn’t go back to sleep and forget. I had to write about it.

In my dream,

I’m sitting at a truck stop counter, smiling

I have one leggy leg crossed over the other

swinging a come-on

to men on the road,

men far from wives and girlfriends,

men who know how to rotate tires on 18 wheelers,

how to tighten breaks,

and pull carburetors,

their wrenches crusty with grease.

A waitress laughs at a bearded man’s joke

and her Marlboro bobs between sugar-pink lips.

The bobbing cigarette stirs me to flop about on the bed

trying to wake myself up, to escape.

Suddenly the truck stop is gone.

I’m back in Alabama, in Prichard.

I’m taking in the action

at The Three Pig’s Bar B Q

that used to stand on the corner

where Craft Highway meets Paper Mill Road.

Men from the paper mill, their shifts just over,

sit at linoleum topped tables,

sticky with hot sauce and old grease.

The light is yellow from the jukebox and the Jacks Beer clock

that hangs on the back wall

over a door with a picture of a winking pig in a cowgirl skirt.

Two good ol’ boys stand near me.

I think I remember them from junior high school

One man leans on the bar, grinning at me blurry-eyed,

As he takes a slug of his Jacks beer,

tanking up before he heads home

to see about the wife.


I have another fear and it borders on phobia. I’m terrified of being trapped, imprisoned, restrained. Then it happened. I was trapped, imprisoned, and restrained. This is my story as I wrote it, minute by minute, as it happened.

9:07: It’s been minutes now since I was free, outside, in the sunshine. That was before I was forced through the machine that x-rayed my belongings and scanned me. I’m being held against my will! They put me in a huge room, the lounge, as they call it. But names don’t matter here. There are a couple of hundred of us in the lounge. I look at the faces around me. Most are heavy-eyed, their minds numbed by the monotony of imposed inactivity. Those of us lucky enough to have laptop or Blackberry are allowed to escape to a smaller cell called the business center where we sit in chairs that are adaptations of the medieval rack, but we don’t complain. We know we are better off. There are only a handful of us.

We don’t speak. The quiet in our cell is interrupted by the slight clicking of nails tapping keyboards. There is a rustle as a newspaper page is turned, but it doesn’t happen often because the owners of these journals milk every word from a page before moving on lest they be left with hours of no distraction to keep them from going mad.

One man has a folder of what looks like legal briefs and contracts with miles of small print. He attacks it hungrily. Speaking of which, I’m worried about the possibility of starvation, scurvy, my hair falling out from malnutrition — even though it’s been only an hour since breakfast, and I smuggled in a biscotti. I’ll call my friends to arrange a break. I’ll go on the lam, hide out with distant relatives I don’t even like.

Too late. They just called us from our cell for a roll call. The lounge is stuffed now. There’s a man who looks like Allen Ginsberg. He stands apart, intent, as though he’s studying the room to find there the truth in words he wrote long ago. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” and so on He alone seems unperturbed. The rest of us are plenty perturbed! Who would be called? I listened, and with every name called, not mine, I breathed a little prayer of thanks.

Suddenly and finally the roll call is over and I’m one of the spared. I watch as the wretches whose names had been called are marched, single-file to their fates, and I know their faces will haunt my dreams for years. For those of us left, there will be other roll calls, and with every one intensified tension. As they go on, I begin to see something like relief on the faces of those whose names are called. At least the not-knowing is over.

It’s 10:47 and it’s happened. My name was called, and it’s possibly the last time I’ll ever hear it. The guards force-march us to another wing where I learn Ruthi is gone. I’m prisoner number 063. I hope they don’t give me a tattoo (or tat as they call it here in the joint). We’re commanded to stand in three lines. I’m at the head of one line. Is that bad? The man who looks like Allen Ginsberg breaks in front of me. It’s okay. I like his poetry.

My legs start to hurt from standing at quasi attention. Shin splints? Is my circulation slowing? Stopping? Just as I think I might faint, a man comes to call us, by number, to form yet another line. Another single-file forced march into a different room. At least here we are allowed to sit. The pain in my legs eases a bit. But will there be permanent damage?

An icy blond woman, probably the warden, speaks to us. “You were handed a piece of paper as you came in.” I looked at the paper in my hand. I’d not even realized it was there. “Write your number on the top right. The guard will pass out pencils. Write nothing else until I order you to do so.” I write my number and go on to start answering the questions because I’m not good at following directions. But something’s happening. I stop writing.

A man in a suit approaches the warden, whispers to her, and steps back. She turns to us and says we can go. Does she mean it? I practically leap over the tall man with the cane beside me to obey her and go before she can change her mind! I’m free, I almost shout it. But, wait, the warden commands. Had she been merely taunting us? Wait, she says again, before you go, return those pencils! I’d dropped mine by my chair, so I stay in the line, marching back to my cell where I’ll wait to learn what they’ll do with me next. A few of us are out the door. A guard chases down the man walking next to me. One pencil nearly got away.

It’s 11:43. I’m still here. Maybe I should keep up with my time by drawing hash-marks on the wall. They just had another roll call. By now I don’t know if it’s good or bad that I don’t hear my number. A sad song wails in my head. “All my trials, Lord, will soon be over.” It’s 11:56. I’m pretty sure I’ll starve.

What’s this in my pocket? It’s the crumpled paper I’d stuffed there as I ran from the warden’s office. I read the list of questions I’m sure they never meant for me to keep. It seems there are things I can do avoid imprisonment in the future. I can comb the newspaper and form strong opinions on every criminal matter that could come to trial. I can become a defense lawyer. I can become a victim of a criminal attack. Here’s one that seems the simplest and least painful. I can join an anti-gun advocacy group. My lap top is already open and Googling its way to the nearest group. I wonder if I have to march to be a member.

More hours have passed. It’s 11:59. There’s an announcement telling us to come back into the lounge. Another roll call? No. The guard looks angry. What will they do to me now? He says something to the group. My mind doesn’t take in his words. Did he say I’m being freed? I can leave? No. There’s a catch. He said before I can leave I have to stand in a line that’s already forming in the hall. Why? To collect wages. I’m to insert the paper with my number and 15 dollars will pop out of the machine.

Another line. No! I’m going to run. I look at the paper in my hand and remember what happened to the man who tried to make off with the pencil. Forget it. I’m going. I look around. Neither the guard nor the man I suspect could be a prison snitch seems to be watching.

I kneel as though to pick up something from the floor and stuff the paper into my shoe. Then I stand and walk toward the exit as quickly as I can without drawing attention to myself. I’m nearly there. Don’t look back, I tell myself. I’m there. I’m out. The air never felt so good. Sweet freedom!


I woke up this morning thinking about Grandmama’s turnip greens with corn dumplings – not just thinking about them, but smelling them. I’m sure a lot of people might think turnip greens are pretty odd things to wake up thinking about. But those people never ate at Grandmama’s house.

People don’t cook the way Mama and Grandmama cooked anymore. That’s because they’re more educated and they know eating foods laced with bacon drippings, butter, fatback, and lard is not healthy. But the food sure was good back when they cooked with lard and fatback.

So many of Grandmama’s old recipes are lost because she didn’t write them. She just cooked them. And the cooking was done by touch more than by measuring cups. Maybe that’s why they are called comfort foods. The old cooking was physical – tactile. You couldn’t just put in some cold measure. You had to feel it. How much salt did you throw in? The amount that felt right. Then you tasted and adjusted – By the way, did you know if you put too much salt in the soup or chicken stock, all you need to do is throw in a peeled potato and it will soak up the salt? Mama taught me that.

As I watched Grandmama or my great aunts, I saw their preparing of food was more than work. It was a family and social experience. Take turnip greens for example. The first step for cooking turnip greens was to gather up the greens in your apron, and take a

Front porches were for working and visiting with the neighbors

Front porches were for working and visiting with the neighbors

 newspaper and a dishpan with salt water out on the front porch where a cousin or neighbor, often the same person, would join you to gossip. Then you’d follow the directions below to make turnip greens and corn dumplings.




A good sized mess of turnip greens with roots (about 2 bunches)

3 inch piece of fatback or thick bacon

2-3 palms of salt (about one teaspoon each)

Cleaning and cooking the greens:

Take the greens onto the front porch in your apron

Take them up one at a time and look them for bugs

Cut off any bad spots and trim out the stalks

Throw scraps onto the newspaper and put the good leaves in the wash pan

(The directions also apply if you’re shelling butter beans and sugar peas)

Soak greens in salt water for 5-10 minutes to kill any amoebas

Wash greens in clean water two-three times and set aside

Peel the roots and cut them into slices about an inch thick

Boil water in 2 quart pot with the fat back

Add turnip roots cut Cook 30 minutes and fork-test roots (should not be too soft)

Add greens and cook for 15 minutes

Ingredients for corn dumplings:

1 cup cornmeal

3 dashes salt (about half a teaspoon)

1 medium egg

A couple of spoons full of pot liquor (the water from the cooked greens)

Cornmeal dumplings:

Mix the cornmeal, salt, and egg

Add enough potliquor (liquid in the pot of greens) to moisten it enough to be rolled into balls

Roll the dough into balls and put them on top of the greens making sure they are covered with potliquor

Cook 5 – 10 minutes

Serve immediately or take the dumplings out and save in bowl till you’re ready to eat.

The corn dumplings were my favorite part. Next to them came the potliquor I’d scoop up in a cup when Grandmama wasn’t looking. I’d drink the greens dry if she’d let me. I can’t describe the taste. Cook the turnip greens and try it.

I’m tired of politically correct, cardboard food, sea salt, and cilantro. If you’ve saved any of the old fashioned, good-eating, salt-pepper-and-fat recipes, I’d love to have you post them here on my blog under the heading, Cooking With Lard and Fatback!



Three A.M. and I’m at my laptop blogging. Why am I up blogging? I’m blogging because I can’t write a query letter. I know I can’t because I tried to write them to literary agents to convince one to represent my book. It’s my second book – second and a half if I count a half-finished book of poetry, but this book I believe in. It’s inspiring. It’s funny. And it needs to be published.

I had no idea how to write a query letter, so I Googled, “how to write a query letter.” Oh boy! I was already stumped at step one, setting the margins. They had to be 1 – 1 ¼ inches. I’m no typist. How do I measure? Should I hire somebody? And if I do 3 inches or 1 ½ inches, will my query be tossed away in disgust?

Finally I made a wild guess about the margin-setting and went on to the instructions for paragraph one.  Start each query, “with something that shows you researched the agent.” Then connect the book to the agent’s interests. My voice, that was clear in my book, cracked and croaked as I wrote and rewrote that paragraph I don’t know how many times. My finished letter began:

Dear Literary Agent:



I read in Agent Query that you have an interest in Southern culture and appreciate feisty female characters. As the writer of a book that is based in the deep south and has plenty of feisty characters, both male and female, I am writing to you in hopes you will be interested working with me on my memoir, Coming From Petain Street; Blue-Collar Lessons For Success.

That didn’t sound a bit like me. But I sent off a dozen or so of similarly personalized letters, each with its obligatory SASE. Rejections were sent back practically by return mail as though the agents couldn’t wait to have the offensive document off of their desks. I’ll bet they blogged about my letter as an example of the worst query letter ever.

What would my voice have said?


MAMA, 12 year old tomboy

My mama, 12 year old tomboy who played marbles with the boys till she won all their marbles.

You like feisty female characters, do you? You don’t know from feisty till you’ve met my relatives. And as for Southern culture (should that be capitalized?), does growing up on a red clay street in a paper mill town count? How about a Daddy who was a tugboat captain or a mother who was a born-again liberal and a leader in the effort to unionize grocery stores in south Alabama? If they count, we were as cultured as buttermilk.

No! I had to stop. I was making myself crazy. Night after night I was awake thinking of the words that would work. But in the light of morning, those words had about the same appeal as buttermilk, cultured or not.

How could I make an agent see what a great book I have? And how could I do it in a one-page, single-spaced, 1 ¼ inch margined letter that started with talking about the agent. How do I tell them my book’s about more than female feistiness and buttermilk, about more than deep south culture and some poor girl’s journey from blue-collar Petain Street to a corner office on K Street in Washington, D.C. ( it’s a big deal in case you’re not familiar with DC). I wanted to tell them … I don’t know. If I could write it here, I’d have written a query letter and my book would be in bookstores already. I can’t and I want to write, so I’m blogging.


I’m The Woman Who Lives With Mr. Magoo (Mackie to family and close friends). He’s a soft-coated

Wheaten Terrier with official fan

Wheaten Terrier with new member of fan club

Wheaten Terrier. I’m here to tell you, living with a celebrity is tough. For one thing, it means I’m invisible.

Mackie with one of his followers

Mackie with one of his followers

They said I’d meet my neighbors walking my dog. We walk. I pass neighbors with a big smile. They smile too but it’s never at me. In fact, I don’t think a single person in Georgetown could pick my face out of a line-up. They’ve never seen it, or anything else above Mr. Magoo’s head which comes just below my knee.

Mackie and I live in a creamy, yellow house with a front courtyard where I’ve grown eight, glorious rosebushes, but is that what people appreciate? No. All anybody knows is this is the house where Mr. Magoo lives and if they come by in the late afternoon, they get to pay homage. So they come. Georgetown University coeds bend down to kiss him, old ladies ooh and ah over him, even businessmen drop to their business-suited knees to adore him, and little children push sticky hands through the wrought iron fence (parents, where are your brains? I know he would never hurt a child. But you don’t know this dog! Handless is no way for your child to go through life!!).





One of Mr. Magoo’s followers was petting him when I thought, out loud, about letting him get his own Facebook page, he had followers waiting in line to be first to friend him. I’m afraid to get my own because nobody knows me except as the woman who lives with Mr. Magoo.


Last night I woke up thinking about some of the funny, awful, or bizarre things I’ve had candidates do or say on job interviews. I own a staffing firm in Washington, D.C. and have been in the staffing business for over 25 years. I can’t imagine a career that would be any more entertaining — matching people with jobs, and trying to help them through the hurdles of interviewing for those jobs.

I found out early that I’d better say the things that you might think would go without saying. Don’t chew gum. Sit up straight. Look people in the eye. Wipe your hand before you shake hands. Don’t tell them personal stuff. But once the obvious was covered, candidates (and employers as well) came up with new and more inventive ways to lose those jobs.

A woman interviewing for a receptionist position sat down with the human resources director and took out her knitting. She really did. How could I have anticipated that? How could I have headed it off? Why did she do it? It made her calmer, she explained. It did not make the director calmer.

Another young woman went into the interview, slapped her hand on the interviewer’s desk and claimed the job, “in the name of Jesus.” Okay. That one worked. Last I heard she was still there.

I used to wonder what possessed these people to do the dumb things they did. Then it occurred to me — the interview is a lot like a first date. That put it in perspective. I was really bad at dating.

It’s likely I was the worst date any high school or college boy in south Alabama ever had. I have enough stories about my dating failures to fill a short, sad book. But even the worst dater has one very worst date. I remember mine in vivid color. He was handsome. He was popular. We were sitting in his car and he was looking into my eyes. I was pretty sure he wanted to kiss me. Then I did the inexplicable. I started quoting poetry. Remembering poems is a talent of mine. I can quote dozens of them by heart. But what made me think this was the right moment to quote them? I don’t know.

The handsome boy’s expression went from amorous and slightly lecherous to wide-eyed incredulity when I launched into an e e cummings poem – and not one of his romantic ones. But it’s still one of my favorites, so I’ll quote it for you, even though you’re not actually a first date, or a date at all. I’m not sure what you’d call a first blogging relationship.

what time is it?it is by every star

a different time,and each most falsely true;

or so subhuman superminds declare

-nor all their times encompass me and you:

when are we never,but forever now

(hosts of eternity;not guests of seem)

believe me,dear,clocks have enough to do

Time cannot children,poets,lovers tell-

measure imagine,mystery,a kiss

-not though mankind would rather know how than feel;

mistrusting utterly that timelessness

whose absence would make your whole life and my

(and infinite our)merely to undie

He didn’t kiss me.

I suppose it was fortunate I didn’t quote Death Of The Hired Man by Robert Frost, or that I had not yet discovered the man who’s still my favorite poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I might have decided the boy would want to hear I Am Waiting. And it’s four pages long – but a terrific poem! I recommend it.

Misery loves company, and so do I. Post your worst and most embarrassing first date stories – the clean ones. Confession is good for …. and might make me feel better about myself.