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!

 

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.

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