Christmas tree made more beautiful by icicles


Halloween is nearly here. Can Christmas be far behind? As I walked Mr. Magoo last week everywhere I turned there were ghosts, witches and Frankenstein monsters amidst bales of hay.  As a country we are into decorating, but most of our opportunities to decorate are lumped into just three months of the year. For the first three quarters our occasions are scant. We’ve got bunnies and

For Easter at 13 E. Petain Street, there were baskets and eggs.

Easter at 13 E. Petain Street meant baskets and colored eggs.

eggs at Easter, and little flags sprout here and there around the summer holidays, but it’s just not enough to satisfy our ornamental yearnings.

Halloween house

Halloween house

So come fall we’re in hog (or decorating) heaven. October first begins a month long pageant which now includes orange lights on trees dripping with fluorescent spider webs. Then, even before Thanksgiving, turkeys and pumpkins are all but pushed aside by the tinsel, snowflakes and Santa

Clauses getting a jump on Christmas.

Back on Petain Street we saved up all of our decorating efforts for Christmas time. Lights were strung in Prichard and in Bienville Square in Mobile and the windows of Gayfers were filled with Santa Clauses, reindeer, and children eyeing sugarplums. A few people in the rich part of town had lights outside their houses. Mama, Daddy and I took an annual outing to see their lights.

But the centerpiece of Christmas was in our own living rooms, the Christmas tree — which brings me to how patriotism, recycling, Christmas trees & Aunt Pauline connect.

 My Aunt Pauline was all about what was pretty and stylish. You could hear it when she talked and see it in everything she did — her hair, her home, even the things she cooked. Nobody disputed my Mama’s cakes and cookies were the best, but Aunt Pauline’s had zing. And no plain blue, pink, and yellow Easter eggs for her. In her hands the same PAAS dyes we all used to make plain one-color eggs turned out eggs that were stripped, speckled, and polka-dotted, and her Christmas trees were masterpieces.

I remember the year I was finally big enough for Aunt Pauline to let me help decorate the Christmas tree in her living room. She had the lights on already. She let me hang glass balls on the limbs I could reach.



Then we were ready for the silver icicles [tinsel]. “Icicles are what makes the tree!” she said as she brought out a big magazine, Look or Life, I think. Between its pages the long silver strands were preserved, just a few to a page.

I grabbed for a handful. “No, you have to put them on one or two at a time so you fill all the branches and make the tree beautiful. Some people throw them on. That leaves them in clumps. Hang them long and even.” She let me take the precious strands, just a few at a time, and hang them on the branches.

As we worked, I wondered why she had them in a magazine. Grandmama bought ours in a box.  



“They’re in the magazine to save them. You can use the same icicles year after year if you’re careful.”  Recycling. We never said it. It was just something everybody did then for practical reasons. Nobody had money to waste buying new and throwing out perfectly good things. Outgrown and worn dresses were cut down to fit the younger children or cut up for quilts (my junior highschool wardrobe came from my pretty cousin Mary Gayle’s closet). Broken things were fixed – televisions, toasters, radios, and frying pans (That’s a career field that no longer exists today – the repairman). Christmas decorations were passed down the generations.


Mr. Magoo wishes you a very merry christmas!

Aunt Pauline chatted as she carefully placed the icicles.  “I always had the prettiest trees – even during the war (WWII). You couldn’t get icicles then – and you shouldn’t have if you could, because aluminum was precious and they needed it for the war effort. (Being patriotic was important to people who’d just fought the big war and weren’t yet fed up with the ongoing fights for democracy.) The people who’d thrown theirs away had to do without. I had saved mine so everybody said I had the most beautiful tree in town.” She stood back and appraised the tree. “Icicles are what makes the tree,” she said again.




The tree finished, we sat on her kidney bean shaped love seat and had cocoa and red and green Christmas cookies with little silver candy balls on top, and looked at the tree. That’s the picture in my head every year when I pull out my magazine filled with icicles — Aunt Pauline and me, sitting on that loveseat ———-  Icicles really do make the tree.


I must have been 11 or so when I discovered romance. Elvis had just made the movie GI Blues. Mama liked Elvis, so even though she believe in going to movies, she bought the album for me. I played it over and over on the little record player I’d had since I was six and fell in love with love.

I longed for love stories, and there weren’t many on Petain Street as far as I could tell. Mrs. Gates and most of the other ladies were


Amanda Delida Thomas Simmons

too old. Mrs. Stokley was a widow and a saint who I was certain would never have sex. Mama and Daddy had their own bedrooms and I never saw them kiss on the mouth (There’s a story here but I wouldn’t know it for a few more years).

I asked Grandmama to tell me about her courtship with Papa. “Tell me about how you met Papa.”



“Well, let me think. It was at a picnic at the church – homecoming I think. Anyway I went with

Papa, Grandmama, Daddy, Uncle Stanley, Aunt Pauline & Aunt Hazel

Papa, Grandmama, Daddy, Uncle Stanley, Aunt Pauline & Aunt Hazel

Mama and Daddy. I made a pie. Papa wasn’t from around there, but he came with a friend. He liked my pie and asked to walk me home. We sat on the porch for a spell, then he said he thought we should get married. I told him I wasn’t ready, and he asked when I’d be ready. I said I thought it would be about another year. He said, “All right, then, I’ll be back in a year.”

I waited for more, for romance, for Elvis, but no. What happened?

She looked up from the button she was sewing on to a shirt. “It was just about a year to the day, I was sitting on the porch shelling peas, when he walked up and said, “’It’s been a year. I’m here to



marry you.’”

“What happened then?”

“We got married.”

I was let down. I’d wanted more. Now I’m rethinking it. He showed up.


Georgetown Library Fire

Georgetown Library Fire in 2007

When I passed the Georgetown library yesterday, I remembered the awful night when it burned. Fire

a A sad, broken-toothed, skull with awful, empty eye sockets where windows should be

 glows red and orange and looks beautiful till it’s over. Then it leaves a sad, broken-toothed, skull with awful, empty eye sockets where windows should be.

My house in Potomac was partially destroyed by a fire 20 years ago. Even after it was repaired and was, “as good as new,” I couldn’t forget the smell, the feeling of vulnerability. I sold it soon after.

I was 10 or 11 the first time I saw a fire. Mr. Cunningham’s shotgun house burned down. It was the one just across the ditch from Delilah’s house.  As I saw the them, the houses on our street fit into two categorizes, poor houses and not-so-poor houses.

”]One of the shotgun houses still standing on Petain St. [2011]The main difference was grass. Poor houses had no grass on the yards, not even a weed or dandelion — just gray, dusty dirt.

Most of the poor houses were on the other side of the ditch, which was really a shallow run-off from a creek that ran from somewhere up in Chickasaw, crossed Haig and Petain Streets, and stopped a few streets past Aunt Pauline’s house.

We lived on the not-so-poor end. We had not just grass, but St. Augustine grass. Daddy had planted it, sprig by sprig. Mr. Cunningham’s house was on the poor side.

Until the fire nobody knew how many dogs lived with Mr. Cunningham in the two-room, tar-papered

house. There were almost always a half dozen lazing around in the shade under the porch or flopped on the steps or sleeping with Mr. Cunningham on the old mattress that lay on the iron bed on the porch. Delilah and I tried to count as many different ones as we could when we walked past to school – I counted nine. She said she counted seventeen, but I don’t think so.

We’d never had a fire on Petain Street before so the whole street came out. We stood closer to that house than we had ever been before. Firemen went in and out of the burnt house. First they brought out Mr. Cunningham, wrapped in a gray blanket and put him in an ambulance that roared away. Than they brought out bundles – two and three at a time and stacked them in the yard Everyone said it was a terrible sight. Mr. Wilson said there ought to be a law against keeping dogs like that.

A fire is a bad thing to happen no matter where it is.

Mr. Magoo, Sheep Herding Dog

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Mr. Magoo, bred to herd

Mr. Magoo, bred to herd

Mr. Magoo is a soft-coated Wheaten Terrier. Wheatens came from Ireland where they were bred to be farm dogs and herders. Now that he’s three I decided it was time he learned to do what he was born to do, so we went to sheep-herding school with Susan Rhoades at Keepstone Farms in Virginia.

This was the most fun Mr. Magoo ever had! Let off of the leash in the pen, he was joyous. He took off into the middle of his small herd, separating them and chasing them through the mud (thus I learned why all the other dog-owners had their dogs in crates rather than riding on the seat of the car). I was afraid he was going to

Mr. Magoo gets a time out

Mr. Magoo gets a time out

be expelledwhen he ran one poor sheep, smack, into the fence, but it

Yea!! I get to chase something!

Yea!! I get to chase something!

seems Susan has seen this before. He just got a time-out.

She explained the herding instinct is really a predatory instinct (My baby a predator? No way!). It’s true. Herding dogs start with the instinct to chase and catch the sheep – although I’m sure Mr. Magoo would have no idea what to do if he were to catch one.

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Save the sheep

Save the sheep

Susan uses the stick to protect the sheep and force the dog to stay outside the herd, instead of charging into it. Mr. Magoo clearly wasn’t being hurt by it. As the lesson progressed, he got frustrated that she was blocking him. He turned to her and told her off – if you don’t know Wheaten Terriers, they can look at you and “talk”. They sound as though they are actually speaking a language you should be able to understand if you weren’t so stupid.

Before the half hour was up, he was starting to catch on to as far as

Getting the hang of it

Getting the hang of it

keeping the herd together rather than attacking, chasing, scattering and terrorizing them.

Next lesson maybe he’ll learn to get them to move in a straight line.

Now you're doing it

Now you're doing it