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.

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



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.



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.


Last week, while waiting for the dentist I picked up the September edition of Town & Country Magazine where I found an item that mystified me.

I’ve never been one to dwell upon the meaning of life or the universe’s other mysteries. I’m more of an in-the-here-and-now kind of person. Let other people ponder what happens when stars collide or when matter and anti-matter come into contact — or was that just something on Star Trek? Those problems are too big and far away for me.

But in a two-inch article on the bottom of page 54, I came upon a collision of entities that, if not cosmic, is still keeping me awake and pondering. It said Missoni, the designer who fills the windows of Saks with stripes and zigzags of color, has created a bicycle for Target. I read it again, finished the magazine and put it aside, but I came back to reread it, looking for the hidden message. At first I just wondered if it could be saying something to me about my business, but that wasn’t it.

It was the unlikely juxtaposition that riveted me — Town & Country magazine, a bicycle, Target, and Missoni — together. My mind has no problem accepting these things in sub-groups. Target and bicycle – not a second thought. Town & Country and Missoni – as natural as Cartier and Panthere. Even Town & Country and a bicycle if it’s being ridden through an estate on Long Island. And maybe you can buy the magazine in some Target locations although it’s not where I’d think to look for it.

Bringing those four together must mean something bigger than mere ingenious merchandizing or a really attractive bike. It must say something about people, the country, the world, life itself. But what? I’m getting a headache.


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.


Home of Brownie troop mother

The Brownie meeting was in the living room of the troop mother

I’m not a joiner because joining things means you have to go to meetings. I hate meetings. I was in the third grade when I learned that about myself. One of my friends (I can’t remember her name — I’ll call her Suzie) invited me to her Brownie meeting. I thought it would be fun. I liked her brown uniform and hat. I called Mama at work for permission to go with her and off we went.

Let me say here that what I’m about to write is not meant to criticize the Brownies which I’m sure is a fine and rewarding organization for many girls. My sister had been a prize winning Brownie. Actually what I’m writing is not about the Brownies at all, but about me.

I don’t know what I expected. But what happened was a meeting. It was in the troop mother’s living room with 12 or so girls I didn’t know. The troop mother started the meeting with, “We have a new girl visiting today. Suzie, stand up and introduce your friend.” She stood up, all excited to have her own visitor. I had to stand too. I was not excited. I hated standing. My face burned. I didn’t know why I had to stand. They could all see me where I sat. I stood.“Welcome Ruthi. Now let’s start our meeting. We want to get finished because we’re going to make flowers with pipe cleaners and crepe paper. First, everybody stand up for the pledge.” They stood up. So did I – again — even though I didn’t know the pledge and didn’t know if I was supposed to stand since I wasn’t a member.

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.   (I didn’t remember it – I Googled)

The pledge done, we sat back down. The meeting seemed to go on forever. It was about some candy they had ordered, and when it would arrive, and how they would all go out and sell it to raise money for something worthy. The mother explained how worthy the worthy cause was. It was during this discussion that I became aware, for the first time, of the meeting suck-up, the person who sees a need to voice his or her (usually her) support for the speaker by uttering loud yesses, uh-huhs, and that’s rights throughout the talk. I hate those people.

The last item on the agenda was badges. “Some of our girls are getting pretty close winning another badge.” The mother’s voice dripped anticipation. They won their badges for worthy things.

 Then out came the pipe cleaner/crepe paper flowers — ordinary pipe cleaners and paper. And I learned yet another thing about myself — I didn’t like making flowers from paper and pipe cleaners – or doing any other activity that was of no value. Once made, what would I do with the flower? I wouldn’t display it in the living room. Mama had much better flowers – wax roses (10 cents a piece at Kress’s) in a pressed glass vase (also 10 cents).

Finally the mother called us into the kitchen where cookies (store bought cookies — Happy Jack’s cookies – the worst cookies ever) were set out along with Kool-Aid in Dixie cups. I’ve already risked offending international scouting so I won’t take on Kool-Aid too but… this was Coca Cola country.

The next week “Suzie” grabbed me after school — all excited. I could come as her visitor again! (Was there a badge at stake, I wondered.) I was never good at confrontation or at on-the-spot lying. I stammered and said I had to call my mother. Suzie trailed me to the school office so I had to actually make the call to Mama at work. I said, “I can’t go to the Brownie meeting again, can I?”
“Do you want to go?” Mama asked.
Suzie was listening. “Yes, I want to join – but you don’t want me to and I have to go straight home, don’t I?”
Mama was quick. “If you don’t want to go, tell her you have to go home. But go home, not anywhere else.” Mama didn’t believe in lying either.

I hung up and said to Suzie, “My Mama doesn’t want me to be a Brownie.”

That was the closest I came to joining any organization that had meetings for several years. Then my Mama’s sister, Aunt Esther, came to visit. She was all into the Masons. Her sons were in DeMolay. I just had to join Rainbow Girls. She would help me find a sponsor. She did – a girl who lived around the corner – one of the pretty girls who was never nice to me. But she agreed to sponsor me. I went to the preparatory meetings and learned the Rainbow Girl pledge (I’m not even Goggling that one). The girls talked about initiation as if it would be like a fraternity thing – with spiders and witches potion. It was titillating. I was scared. I was excited. Mama bought me a pink, chiffon, semi-formal, and totally unflattering dress for the occasion.

I went, my chubby, pre-teen body in layers of frothy chiffon, afraid and excited. Then

The Mason's hall where I attended my one meeting as a Rainbow Girl

The Mason's hall in Prichard where I attended my one meeting as a Rainbow Girl

disappointed and bored,

It was just a meeting! No spiders! No witches brew! No slimy things down our backs! Just a meeting and we had to sing.
(This one was worth a Google)
“M” is for the million things she gave me,
“O” means only that she’s growing old,
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me,
“H” is for her heart of purest gold;
“E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
“R” means right, and right she’ll always be,
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means the world to me.

I was initiated. I was done. (Masons, if you have all the satanic power cable TV claims, forgive me)

I never even considered joining anything else till I went to the University of Georgia. Sororities sounded exciting. The first round of sorority rush was a series of ice water teas. I went. They felt like meetings. I didn’t go back.

But mandatory meetings are part of life. So how did I handle them?

Teacher’s meetings: I shook my keys, rolled my eyes, and muttered, “Oh, Please!” whenever a teacher brought up such topics as copier machine etiquette (but, copier etiquette? OH, PLEASE!).

Methodist Church Board (it was supposed to be an honor to be asked): After a shouting match between minister and Lay Leader, I said, “I can go to church with you people, or sit here and listen to you fight, but I can’t do both.”

Company meeting to introduce new insurance plan: There is always one person who asks those stupid should-go-without-asking questions. eye rolls again and,“Oh, please. Read the brochure!”

The good news is anybody who knows me at all would NEVER want me on any committee, club, Board, or organization with which she or he is even remotely involved.

But if anybody does ask me, I know what I’ll say. “My Mama doesn’t want me to be a Brownie.”


at UGA

At UGA where I got to meet some famous and wonderful people

 I just read that Glen Campbell has Alzheimer’s disease. I’m sad about that because Glen Campbell is one of my heroes and has been since I was 19 years old.

What heroic thing did he do? It was such a little thing and it seemed such a natural act for him that I’m certain it was not his intention to impress me and he no idea of his impact. But his was the act that defined heroic for me. Since my encounter with Mr. Campbell, I’ve been on the alert for other heroes and I’ve learned some things about them. This is one thing I’ve learned — the transformation from human to hero takes 27 seconds (I made that up but it sounds right) and probably uses up no more than 20-30 calories.

Glen Campbell’s transformation from entertainer to hero happened in Athens, Georgia when he appeared with Bobbie Gentry at a university concert. I got to go backstage and meet such stars as Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry,  Johnny Rivers andJerry Butler (The IceMan) because I was dating a disc jockey at the only top-40 radio station in town and number one with university students – the two other stations were easy listening [for old people] and all news which explains it.

That evening Johnny [later to be John Holliman of CNN] and I got there early and spent almost an hour with Bobbie Gentry in her dressing room. She was beautiful and real and open. Actually most all of the performers were down-to-earth.

Bobbie Gentry was hot. She had just hit the top of the charts with Ode to Billie Joe. And for those who remember the question, Bobbie Gentry did tell us the answer — the answer to what she and Billie Joe were, “throwing … off the Tallahatchie Bridge. ”I’ve never told anyone. 

We got out front just in time to see Glen Campbell’s performance. Wow! It still ranks as one of the two or three best performances I’ve ever seen. He had charisma. He had humor. The highlight for me was his imitation of Elvis — when Elvis ws still alive. I was awestruck.

After the concert we all went back to the WDOL studios where Glen Campbell cut promos with the disc jockeys. [I’ve often wondered what happened to the other disc jockeys at WDOL. They were some of the most creative and talented people I’ve ever met: Charlie Jordan, Mr. Jack, and the most talented of all, Bob Boyd]

By this time I’d met a lot of performers, and I knew they were working, tired and wanting to get on with business, so I stayed in the background, which was in this case, behind a glass wall that separated the studios from the offices. No. That’s just part it. The other part is I couldn’t imagine why they would want to meet me. Anyway I hadn’t met Glen Campbell.

They finished the promos and Mr. Campbell went out the door and down the stairs to the street with his crew. I was picking up my things and getting ready to leave when the door opened again. It was Glen Campbell, alone. I sat back on the desk thinking he had forgotten something. But he didn’t go into the studio.

He turned and came through the glass door into the office, and to me. Smiling, his hand out, he said, “I’m Glen Campbell. I don’t believe we met.” We shook hands. That’s all. He just shook my hand. Then he left, transformed into my hero.

Here is my first and only fan letter ever.

Dear Mr. Campbell,

I’m your devoted fan and have been for over 30 years. It started when you did something little [to you], something unexpected, kind – and remembered. I’ve thought about you over the years. Your every success thrilled me as though you were part of my family. Now you’re sick. You will forget many things.  I’m praying your triumphs and your sweet gestures will be the things you remember — that the good times stay with you as your longest lasting memories, and only the sad times disappear.



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:




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 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!