TOO MUCH TURKEY & DRESSING IS ENOUGH

 

GRANDMA, ALEX, AND JOE ARE READY FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER

Christmas was perfect with all of my family home once again — and once again I cooked too much food – too much turkey and way too much dressing. Too much turkey because of my Daddy’s blue-collar pride. “We may not have much, but nobody in my house ever goes hungry.” I took that lesson to the grocery store where I asked the man at the poultry counter how big a turkey I’d need to feed nine people. He told me. I bought one a little over twice that. Nobody at my house was going to go hungry.

I made too much dressing because I never cook anything the same

CHRISTMAS WITH MY BOYS AND LOTS OF GIFTS

My Boys Home For Christmas

way twice. It’s my heritage. I come from a long line of women who eschewed recipes in favor of the taste & feel method. You mix it, then taste it – however raw. If it doesn’t taste right, add stuff, and taste again, and again till it’s right. Then you cook it.

           So I started by gathering the ingredients: 2 5 x 5” squares of store-bought cornbread, a bag of cornbread stuffing mix left over from Thanksgiving, 2-3 boxes of chicken soup stock, 1 package chicken livers, 2 cups chopped onion, 2 cups chopped celery, 2-3 eggs, Tsp thyme, Tbsp salt, Tbsp pepper, a quarter pound of butter.

Once I’d cooked celery, onions, and a half stick of butter in chicken stock and the chicken livers and turkey liver, gizzard, and neck in water till done (you can add the heart but I don’t because I think it’s gross} and greased two 6” square baking pans with butter, I put all the ingredients (only 2/3 of the giblets – saved rest for gravy) into my biggest mixing bowl and stirred it all together. It didn’t feel wet enough so I added more chicken stock.

           Then came the important part. I tasted the mixture. Way too sweet! Then I remembered I’d made the same mistake last year. Store-bought cornbread is sweet. This tasted more like liver-flavored cake than stuffing. The answer was to add bread.

           I found 4 ½ hotdog buns in the bread bin along with 2 leftover biscuits. I mixed them in and added more chicken stock. Still too sweet. No time to go to the store. I broke up the loaf of French bread I’d planned to serve for brunch. We could eat Christmas candy for brunch. I tried scrapping some crust from a frozen quiche but gave up on it.

By then bowl was overflowing, so I poured the mixture into my turkey roasting pan, and added 3 more rolls I’d found in the bottom of the freezer. This much dressing needed another half stick of butter and more salt and pepper. I wet it down with more chicken stock. To heck with the spoon. A spoon was nothing against this ocean. I pushed back my sleeves, grabbed the mess with both hands and kneaded and mixed, frequently adding more stock, till it felt right.

Tasted it again. Added salt. Added sage. Tasted again. By the time it passed the taste-test I had enough dressing to fill six 6” pans. No worry, I told myself. It freezes.

Now it’s one day later. The freezer is full. I’ve decided I hate turkey and I hate dressing and I have enough to last a month. Dinner anyone?

Day three–There’s half a turkey left  —  I ordered Chinese!

 

REAL GRITS DON’T HAVE CHEESE

I’m  a little ashamed of this posting. It’s a confession. I ate grits that had cheese in them — and I loved them. It’s so wrong. Real grits don’t have cheese! I know that. I grew up with grits — not quick grits but grits you simmer forever and with no thyme, sun-dried tomatoes, or cheese — just salt and butter.

Then I had my three boys and I raised them in the north (Washington, D.C. is north to people from south Alabama) but I raised them right. That means I raised them on crab gumbo, fried chicken, and grits. 

Several years ago, I took my youngest son to NYC. We went to one of my favorite restaurants, Sarabeth’s Kitchen on Madison Avenue. Grits were on the menu. He ordered them. He stared at them. They weren’t grits. They were some concoction with cheese. He wished he’d ordered the pancakes.

I explained the rules of grits to him. Never order grits in the north – they’ll be dry and undercooked or they’ll have cheese — and real grits don’t have cheese.

Now I’ve betrayed generations of southern cooks and the southern way of life. I’ve eaten cheesy grits and asked for seconds. Guilt loves companyso I’m here to lead others astray. Here’s the recipe from my friend Dot at Silver Brook Farms near Leesburg, VA

2 l/4 cups low-salt  chicken broth
2 tablespoons (l/4 stick) butter
1 garlic clove, chopped
l/2 cup quick-cooking grits
3/4 cup whipping cream
l/2 cup diced drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese (about  4 oz)
Chopped fresh chives (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. 
Generously butter 8x8x2 inch baking dish.
Bring broth, 2 tablespoons butter, and garlic to boil in heavy medium saucepan.  Gradually whisk in grits and return mixture to boil, whisking occasionally. 
Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until grits are thick and almost all broth is absorbed, whisking frequently, about 8 minutes.
Whisk in ½ cup cream and simmer 5 minutes, whisking occasionally.
Whisk in remaining l/4 cup cream and simmer until very thick, stirring often, about  5 minutes longer.
Stir in tomatoes, thyme and goat cheese.  ||Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour into prepared dish. 
Bake about 15  minutes.  Garnish with chives, if desired, and serve immediately.

 

WORLD TOILET DAY & THE 3-SEATER OUTDOOR TOILET

MY ATTEMPTS TO DRAW OUTDOOR - THREE-SEATER TOILET

IT TOOK SEVERAL TRIES BEFORE I GOT THE PICTURE RIGHT

November 19th was World Toilet Day. That gave me something to think about.

I imagined the announcement: “RuthiPostowStaffing will be closed Saturday, November 19, 2011 in honor of World Toilet Day.”

I went to the web and discovered World Toilet Day was set up for what seemed to be a good reason – to support better sanitation in third world countries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Toilet_Organization.

A Googledippity led me to discover there is also a World Toilet Paper Day in August. We the people surely do seem to be caught up in the subject. Toilets for everybody!

 But I found myself wondering if people the world over feel about toilets as we do. Is the number one priority for people in the third world is toilets (does anyone ever write about the first two worlds?). I talked to a Marine who had been part of a detail that built modern latrines in Iraq. Did the people there appreciate or want them? I don’t know for sure. But toilet seats were torn off and thrown away and the walls were covered in filth within a couple of weeks. U.S. toilets don’t seem to be on the list of their favorite things.

What this says to me is something I’ve always believed — toilets are personal – contrary to the new toilet paper commercials that take their message way too close to my personal stuff for comfort.

Even in the United States not all toilets are alike. Some people have toilets made of gold, or so I’ve heard. Some toilets are in bathrooms that open onto walled gardens – I saw one in House Beautiful. Where I grew up in Prichard, Alabama, every house had a toilet. My Aunt Annie’s had pink flamingo wall paper. Rich people in Mobile had two or three toilets, but on Petain Street there was just one per family and we all shared that one.

A lot of my kinfolks who lived in the country had outdoor toilets. They were in little wooden

SINGLE-SEATER OUTHOUSE

SINGLE-SEATER OUTHOUSE

houses several yards from the house. There was one at May Creek church where we went to homecoming every year. It smelled like the fumes from a paper mill—if you’ve ever smelled a paper mill. Some outdoor toilets were as clean as could be. Others – not so clean. Mama would stop at a gas station before she’d let me use the one at Aunt Lizzie’s house. But she wouldn’t let me eat there either. I guessed Aunt Lizzie didn’t wash her hands before she cooked.

MY AUNT'S THREE-SEATER OUTSOUSE

MY AUNT'S THREE-SEATER OUTSOUSE

The best outdoor toilet ever was at Mama’s Aunt Charity farm! It was a three seater! A spotlessly clean and neat-as-a-pin little house that had wooden pegs to hold plenty of toilet paper, a rack for books or magazines — and an oak bench, sanded smooth as porcelain, into which three holes were cut. It was the cutting edge of outdoor toiletry. Three people could go at once and in pristine comfort. I didn’t want to go with two other people, but my aunt was as proud as punch (Google the expression) of that toilet. I think she would have shot any Marines who came there with the intention of bulldozing her toilet to build some prefab metal one on her land – and my Aunt Charity had a shotgun and knew how to use it!

But as elegant as Aunt Charity’s toilet was, the bathroom is one place I don’t want to share. My ideal toilet would be a one-seater. And it would be set in the middle of a complete library. “If it weren’t for toilets there would be no books.” (George Costanza on Seinfeld) and it would have a bathtub as big as a swimming pool.

But I’ve wandered off topic as I so often do. This is about World Toilet Day. The topic is close to all of us. The holiday could take hold. Someday we might celebrate the day with huge family reunions and turkey dinners. Maybe there will even be a parade.

EDUCATION, A PRIVILEGE TO BE PRIZED

Daddy

Daddy, Norvelle Guytan Simmons - This scholarship is for him.

My company announced today the awarding of the fifth annual RuthiPostowStaffing Scholarship. This year it goes to The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. I’m proud of our scholarship. Education is special to me. There was a time when education was a privilege, and in that time people prized it. For homeless children that is still true. It is not assured and they prize it.

My Daddy was 12 years old when he finished the sixth grade and his last year of school.

He was the oldest of four children of Willie and Mandy Simmons, my Grandmama and Papa. They lived near Brewton, Alabama where Papa worked with logging crews. If you’ve ever driven through the region, maybe you noticed it’s all pine, the legacy of my Papa’s crews that cut down the hundreds of years old hardwood trees and loaded them onto trucks that took them to the ships in Apalachicola.

Then as now, a hard life created people with limited horizons. My family was lucky enough to be literate, but once you could read and write and do figures, you had what you needed. You could read the Bible, write letters to kinfolks, and make sure you weren’t cheated at the feed store.

Papa and Grandmama were schooled according to the textbook of the day, the Blue-backed Speller. Asked how far he got in school, Papa would tell you, “I got through horseback, but Mandy got to Constantinople!”

Grandma and Papa

Grandma and Papa

When Daddy was 12, Papa said he had all the education he needed and told him it was time he went to work and helped put food on the table. Daddy lived to be 90. He raised three children all of whom he was proud to have graduate from college. He bought a second hand set of Compton’s Encyclopedias that he read cover to cover. He practiced grammar, “the mark of an educated man.” He never forgave Papa for stopping his schooling.

Five years ago, just after my company’s fifth birthday, Jenni O’Toole my business partner and I sat back to appreciate how far we had come since those early, often scary, days when we were new and struggling. Then we made one of our best decisions ever. We decided to earmark money for a scholarship. Great years or not so great, we would help young people get an education.

As women business owners, our first idea was a scholarship to support young women who were looking to use their education to launch careers in business. We approached a number of colleges and were told to, “just make a donation.” It’s amazing how hard it is to give money away if you care where it’s going.

Finally we forged a successful partnership with the University of Richmond and worked with them for two years. But we realized the young women we supported were going to get their education with or without us. We went in search of people who needed us.

The third year we chose Second Chance Employment for Women, which worked to educate and train women who were the victims of spousal abuse so they could afford to escape their abusers. That was a cause I could believe in. I could imagine myself tearing the face off of any man who hit me. When I asked my favorite minister what she would do if a husband tried to beat her, she said, “I’d be the finest minister in the prison system.”

In 2010, the scholarship went to a young woman who had been the victim of human trafficking, sold into prostitution by her grandmother when she was 12.

This year one of my clients told me about an organization that helps homeless children get educated. Homeless children? I tried to imagine the life of a homeless child. Where does she sleep? What does she eat. How does she stay clean and healthy? What hope does she have? The pictures I imagined were heartbreaking and I’m certain the reality is worse.

As I thought about it, I saw a circle closing — connecting my 12 year old Daddy who craved an education but had no hope of getting one to children who not only have no hope of an education but have no promise of the ability to keep a roof over their heads.

I talked with a representative of NAEHCY who told me some of their success stories, children finishing high school, college, getting advanced degrees. The people at NAEHCY give these children hope. They look at homeless children and see future educators, doctors, and lawyers. Most important they see children who will have the power to ensure they need never be homeless again.

For Daddy, whatever the question, education was the answer. Education was a privilege he didn’t have. This year’s scholarship is for him.  http://www.naehcy.org/

CHRISTMAS TREES, RECYCLING, PATRIOTISM & MY AUNT PAULINE

Christmas tree made more beautiful by icicles

ICICLES REALLY DO MAKE THE TREE

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.

THE COUSINS GATHERED AROUND AUNT PAULINE'S CHRISTMAS TREE

THE COUSINS GATHERED AROUND AUNT PAULINE'S CHRISTMAS TREE

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.  

MR. MAGOO AND ICYCLES

MR. MAGOO AND ICICLES

“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's CHRISTMAS CARD

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.

 

ICICLES AND LIGHTS

MERRY CHRISTMAS

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.

THE ROMANCE OF GRANDMAMA AND PAPA

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

Grandma

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.”

GRANDMAMA AND PAPA 1950 ISH 001

GRANDMAMA AND 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

GRANDMAMA AND PAPA

GRANDMAMA, PAPA & THEIR CHILDREN

marry you.’”

“What happened then?”

“We got married.”

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

I WAS 10 OR 11 THE FIRST TIME I SAW A FIRE

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.

Wall To Wall Carpets – One Of Life’s Ponderables

 My Aunt Pauline was something! She had red hair and a red head’s personality – flair and joie de vivre (she’d have loved that description) – everything a red-head should have.

AUNT PAULINE AND UNCLE JACK

AUNT PAULINE LONG BEFORE I KNEW HER -- Style, Flair, Energy

She greeted her world and every experience with relish, and she had a way of speaking that made me feel whatever she said was new, different, and exciting. She could make taking Grandmama to visit Papa’s grave sound exciting.
I loved going to her house which was right around the corner, so I was able to go on my own to visit her from the time I was seven or so. She had things nobody else had – she had a waffle iron!!

Aunt Pauline was all about what was pretty, what was stylish, what was new, and what nobody else ever talked about.

There wasn’t anybody else on Petain Street like her. Of course she didn’t actually live on Petain Street but around the corner on Craft Highway which was pretty much the same except it was paved with cement instead of red clay.

Christmas time, when I was six or seven, the whole family gathered at Aunt Pauline’s house where Mama or one of the uncles gathered us for a group picture. I came across it a few days ago and it’s probably why I woke up thinking about her.
I was in front, then were my favorite cousins Carolyn, Margaret, and Mary Gayle. On the next row

The cousins gathered at Aunt Pauline's house for Christmas Eve

The cousins gathered at Aunt Pauline's house for Christmas Eve

were Patty and Polly. I stood in the front because I was the youngest in the family, except for Johnny, and he lived way away in Brewton so I didn’t count him – I was the baby. Everybody else was dressed between Christmas-y and casual.

All dressed up for Christmas with rollers in my hair

All dressed up for Christmas with rollers in my hair

I was all dressed up in a ruffled Christmas dress — except for some reason I don’t know I had rubber rollers in my hair.

After the photo, my cousins dispersed leaving me to play with my dolls while the adults talked. I wasn’t paying attention until Aunt Pauline made a declaration I found so remarkable, so unexpected, so far removed from my world that it captured my full concentration. I stopped playing and pondered the words I would never forget.

“Nobody has carpets that are wall-to-wall anymore. It’s not the style. All the magazines show carpets stopping at least two feet away from the walls — as an accent.”

I was mesmerized, unaware of any other voices, or any discussion there may have been about this trend in home decorating – just Aunt Pauline’s.

I’d had never known a single house in Prichard to have the now unstylish wall-to-wall carpet, or an accent carpet either. Even if we could afford carpets, Petain Street was paved with Alabama’s famous red clay and the clay dust got ground into every piece of furniture and every curtain.

The old wood floors in our houses, if they were covered at all, were covered with linoleum. It came from the store in big roles that were printed to look like carpet, with blue, red, purple, and green flowers. But the colors quickly dulled as the clay and sandy soil of land nearly at sea level were ground into it by our shoes.

Even before the linoleum dulled, jagged lines of cracks appeared in it. Nobody would ever think of paying extra to have the linoleum laid and glued down by men from the store. “What? Waste all that money on something we can do for ourselves?” So the linoleum buckled even while it was being laid and it cracked with the first footstep.

“Nobody is putting in carpets that go wall-to-wall anymore. It’s not the style. All the magazines show carpets stopping at least two feet away from the walls — as an accent.”

What more is there to say? It’s a riddle and I still don’t have an answer. I suppose carpet’s the punch line of this posting. More about Aunt Pauline later.

ONCE THERE WAS TIME TO WASTE, TO BE ALONE, AND GET BORED

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.

THIRD GRADE AT TURNERVILLE ELEM

THIRD GRADE AT TURNERVILLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

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

TICE'S ICE KREME

TICE'S ICE KREME

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.

 

CHECKS CASHED

CHECKS CASHED

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.

THE WALL IN FRONT OF THE ROBINSONS HOUSE WAS SO MUCH BIGGER THEN

THE WALL IN FRONT OF THE ROBINSONS HOUSE WAS SO MUCH BIGGER THEN

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.”

SMITH'S STORE WHERE I WATCHED MR. SMITH CUT UP MEAT

SMITH'S STORE WHERE I WATCHED MR. SMITH CUT UP MEAT

c. 2011 Ruthi Postow

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

DREAM WITH TRUCKSTOP AND THE 3 PIGS BBQ

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.