Sunday, December 11, 2011

Four-Pie Day: What FB Pics Can't Say

I became Gran the Cooker before Nicholas, my oldest grandson, was in first grade. Almost as soon as he could talk, he could instruct any babysitter on how to cook his favorite food, “noodles and chumchum cheese.”  In first grade when I gave a lesson to his class at St. Francis Xavier on writing poetry, and assisted them in writing a poem as a group, I knew that he had me forever characterized. The class, with assistance from their astute teacher, Miss Evans, married now but still teaching first grade there, sent me a poster-sized thank-you note in the form of a poem.


Gran is nice
She likes brown rice.
Gran is silly
She likes chili.
Gran is great.
She likes to bake.
Gran is smart.
She has love in her

The poster decorated by the class is covered with so many colorful hearts, bowls, butterflies and other crayon markings that you can sometimes hardly see the words. Joy. Joy. I said, “How did they know all this, Nicholas?”  “They asked me,” he replied. No wonder it has become a tradition for me to ask Nicholas what he’d like me to bake on his birthday. This Wednesday he turned eighteen, and his choice was the same as last year: a key lime cheesecake.

I have five cheesecake pans in my kitchen, but I chose a nearly new nine-inch one last Wednesday. As the cheesecake cooked, butter leaked from its generous graham cracker crust onto the bottom of the oven. A cheesecake pan is a springform pan, and truly it defies logic that any one of them wouldn’t leak. I learned early on from my eager-beaver algebra grad student who couldn’t teach you to tie your shoes that the circle is the only shape that will not fall through itself; thus, the circular man hole cover. (The singular thing I learned from him.) And I might add, thus, the cheesecake pan, for the bottom must fit securely into the sides.  A spring clip fastener tightens and holds the sides firmly in place.

High temperatures and butter don’t mix. Duh. This is not an algebraic equation or geometric theorem that I know of, but it is a Kathleen proverb. When I took the cheesecake out to top it with the final layer of sweetened and vanilla-flavored sour cream, I had to change the temperature to 500 degrees for just a few minutes. I knew there might be a problem because there was already smoke. Where there is smoke there is fire, right? When I removed the cheesecake after a few minutes, almost seconds, just to get the sour cream bubbling at the edges, the smoking was terrible. I threw open doors and turned on fans. The self-cleaning process, it seemed to me, was the logical next step. After all, it is the baking season, and I would need that oven immediately. I pushed the appropriate buttons, but within, I’d say, ten minutes, flames were leaping up inside my oven. My gut reaction was to grab the red fire extinguisher from underneath the stovetop. There it sat, unused, with the clip ready to be pulled. I tried the oven door but it didn’t open. Thank God. The microwave above also gave me a digital sign when I tried that door handle: The oven is locked. Meantime, my heart is into Olympic track-running speed, as I dial my husband at work, keeping an eye on the flames. (Once I dialed him long distance at 11:00 p.m. in Greenville, SC, from Prattville, AL, to ask him about a teenage issue, an emergency I judged, that was occurring at the moment.) “Don’t open the door!” he almost shouted.

Turns out, he says, that the temperature inside the oven is probably up to 600 degrees while cleaning but the flames could be as hot as 1500 degrees. (His engineering specialty is thermodynamics, and he helped save Skylab, the first space station, by working to design the now-famous heat shield.) Oh, boy. My oven was going to go up in flames and my house, too. Just as I was about to hang up and call 911, another digital message popped up. Oven disabled. The flames began to subside.  When I reported that to Papa the Professor, he assured me that the oven had a safety mechanism that kept the door locked and probably had an appropriate cut-off device. With his close supervision the next morning, we “burned the BTU’s left in the butter” by using normal baking temperatures. Horrid smell. Ghastly smoke for a bit. Ah, but then his troubleshooting expertise was satisfied; I could again try the self-cleaning process.

I’m happy to report all is well with my temporarily ailing oven. It has that nice blue interior again and, more importantly, it has baked with fair success four pies although the baking was not even, and I did have to shift the pies once. This is excellent news. Victoria, my only granddaughter, turns nine tomorrow.  I wonder what chocolate thing she’ll want me to bake?
3--from Glenwood's Pecans sold locally
Pear Mincemeat
 Remember when I canned it earlier this fall?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Efficacy of Industry: Whatever Works

As a rule, I hate jokes. Perhaps it's because I'm not a good joke teller, or perhaps I'm not a good joke teller because I hate jokes. I don't know which. In any case, I'm about to break the rule.

Two friends who worked on the assembly line for a car parts plant in Tuscaloosa died. One went straight to heaven; the other, straight to hell. After a few weeks the one in heaven telephoned the one in hell and said, "Hey, buddy. Howya doin down there?"

"Oh, purty good, I guess," replied the one in hell.

"Purty good? Whaddaya mean?" said the one in heaven.

"Well, we have to work all the time, but it's not bad. We get breaks any time we need 'em, smoke breaks, long lunch breaks, you the way, I've always wondered, what's it like up there?"

"Not good. Not good at all. We work long days and nights and can't even get a single break. It's just work, work, work," said the guy in heaven.

The guy in hell was very puzzled. "Why do you think that is?"

"Not enough help," said the guy in heaven.

Probably the real reason I remember this joke and not the other two my nephew, Gary (who BTW works on an assembly line), told this past weekend is that I like the underlying metaphor of  this one, that the afterlife may not be too different from our lives on earth.

Without getting into a diatribe on my religious views, I will simply say that during this Thanksgiving week, one of my blessings is work. Not all work, mind you. Don't put me on an assembly line, for that would be sheer hell on earth. But the work I love: being in the kitchen with my sisters making cornbread dressing or Cranberry Conserve; ironing in the early morning when no one in the house is awake but me;
writing a poem or essay about my work, blogging...

(See yesterday's prep work for Thanksgiving below.)

The ironing takes me back to the late fifties when it was my after-school job to iron for my sister all the starched cottons she had. The starch was not from a can, but the stiff kind, the kind that you mixed with water, dipped the clothes in it, wrung them out, hung them on the clothes line to dry, and sprinkled and kept in the refrigerator until ironing day. (Ann Taylor in Prattville held the record for this: she declared that once she left a sprinkled tablecloth in the refrigerator for two years.) I devoured the repetition of the nuances in "Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns" as I smoothed the wrinkles away and imagined what I might be doing in my own kitchen someday. The great difference is that I no longer watch soaps at the ironing board, but relish the quiet for just the imagining, or for remembering the days that are no more. Or philosophizing on the greater issues of life as I did this morning ironing Tommy's khakis.

I remembered when the sister six years older than I am, Gary's mother, told jokes. She still loves to hear a good one even though she can't walk from failed knee surgeries. She used to sing  incessantly as a teenager; too bad she was born too soon for American Idol. My oldest sister taught us both a lot about cooking. Now she can't remember the ingredients that comprise her red velvet cake. My only living brother loves to plant and grow things. Two bouts with pneumonia last winter have stripped him of most gardening.

Given the choice, I think I would take fingers and hands and arms and legs over wings. Streets of gold are not necessary. Just a plain house. With an ironing board and iron, of course. And grandchildren--that goes without saying. I know a lot of my friends hate ironing, so my choices wouldn't work for them. But I'll leave those little details up to God.
Equipment Ready

Cranberry Conserve Cooking

Cranberry Conserve Canned

Strawberry Salad, Ready to freeze

Friday, November 4, 2011

What's in a name?

I'm always interested in how an artistic rendering comes to be named. When I interviewed master weaver Clare Matthews for a profile in WELD, I asked her  about the naming of her rugs/wall hangings.“I only name my pieces if they’re going to be in an exhibition or gallery. They insist on a title,  not Rug 40 or Rug 41. So sometimes I ask myself what does this remind me of?”

Clare and I met at a poetry reading in Leeds. The pattern of her published piece in Birmingham Arts Journal reminded her of the game Tiddledywinks; thus, its name.  “The way the little round pieces flip up in kind of half circles, and then they’re moving, and they come back down again. Always nice bright colors in shiny plastic.”

"Desert Dazzler" is easily recognizable at the WELD web site. It dances right before your eyes. "Rhythm and Blues" is also pictured there. Some of the out takes of the article I thought I'd post here for those who want to see more of the fun visit I had in Clare's home.
She is pictured in front of both her cool and warm colors. A portion of her wall of collected cards, the passementerie, the creel, and a circular table mat she freehanded after seeing a similar one in the American west are shown here.

The picture of Clare seated at her loom on the web site is much better than one I could take. See it at

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Haiku and an I O U

Today, poets from across the state convened at the Conference Center in Montevallo for the annual Alabama State Poetry Society meeting. Actually the events began last night for those who needed to come and spend the night. For years it was the tradition of both the Writers Conclave and the Poetry Society to meet at Montevallo. Driving down this morning at 7:30, I was struck by how populated with homes and businesses Highway 119 has become in the past ten years.

The day began with two workshops by John Ottley from Alpharetta and the GA State Poetry Society, former editor of the Midwest Review in Atlanta, and Bob Collins, retired English professor from UAB and editor of the Birmingham Poetry Review.

John had participants try their hand at editing poems that had been submitted and rejected. Editing poetry, I know, is a wonderful way to improve your own writing, but who wants it? That exercise made me happy that I had only my ugly ducklings to deal with and not those of other poets as well.

Bob Collins spoke on the persona poem and the dramatic monologue and gave us examples of those forms. His reading of Browning's  "My Last Duchess" took me back to the drama department at the  University of Alabama and Dr. Allen Bales when I was a sophomore. At the time I was so "green" it would have made Dylan Thomas's greenness look pink; yet, I needed that little two-hour elective and Oral Interpretation with Dr. Bales seemed just the ticket. Ah, but I hardly even knew the term, and I certainly knew nothing of what to expect. Never mind that I had performed as Gretel in our third gray play and had pantomimed "You Can't Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover" in a junior high talent show.I'd even memorized lines for an older woman part in senior play that was so un-memorable I don't remember what it was. Still, what did I know about oral interpretation?

The small class had assembled before Dr. Bales arrived. He walked in and had a printout of his new class roll. We were in a room with a small stage and a podium. He handed us a copy of "My Last Duchess." Then he ran his finger down the list of students. "Number 15," he said. "Miss Smith. Mary K. Smith." Yes, my first name is Mary and my maiden name was Smith.

I just about fainted with fear at that point. I had no idea what he was about to ask of me. He instructed me to go up on the stage and read the poem. Well, no problem, I thought. I can read the poem if my wobbly legs will take me up there.  I had read the poem before. And that's what I did again, if a little shaky. It was a fair reading, but it was simply that, an oral reading.

When I sat down, Dr. Bales ran his finger down the roll again. This time the boy approached the podium with what seemed to be a slight swagger. He took time to look at his audience and size us up, it seemed to me.  He drew in a deep breath and stood tall. Then, as if he indeed at one time had rehearsed and memorized the poem, he began distinctly, "That's my last Duchess..." He enuciated, and gestured to where the picture might be hanging, and gave wing to each word, each line gaining momentum as he read.

My heart sank as my classmate finished the interpretation and stepped down. I knew now how awful my reading had been, relative to his. At that moment I knew I would surely get a failing grade for my performance that day, and I wasn't sure I would ever make a passing grade. But I was never one to throw in the towel. Nobody of my generation ever thought of dropping a class; you were stuck with the IBM cards you were dealt over at registration in Foster Auditorium, the same spot where George Wallace would stand the next year, 1963, in the "schoolhouse door."

 And stuck it out I did. Dr. Bales set about teaching us how to project our physical beings into our performance. He had us beat our chests with our fists as we read "Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay boom," hitting hard on the boomlay. If someone's voice were not deep enough or rich enough, he'd insist on hitting the chest again. The word golden in "golden bells" had to rise and fall as if it were as precious as the medal it named. When Bill Thompson, whose voice was very deep, and who had had no trouble with boomlay, could not go high enough to get the O in golden, Dr. Bales made him say it over and over and over until finally this O squeaked out follwed by two more squeaks that hurt the ears. Dr. Bales gave up and moved on. 

What I lacked in dramatic delivery, I seemed able to make up for with my knowledge of the literary pieces Dr. Bales chose for us to interpret. While I wasn't transformed into a total drama queen, I still have my high moments, thanks to Dr. Bales.

Today there was one of those moments. The contest prize chair, Jerri Hardesty, called out the  name of the 3rd place winner in the "Make Mine Short" contest required to be a short poem in a traditional form. "Kathleen Turner," she called, and I looked around, expecting this to be one of those out of state folks who regularly receive our prize monies by mail. Jerri was looking at me and said again, "Kathleen Turner."

She named the poem, "Haiku III." I jumped from my seat. "Kathleen Turner? That's me!" Jerri was mortified at her mistake, but I took it as the opportunity to tell a story to the group of life in small town Prattville and my first trips to the bank. On the first drivethrough, the teller welcomed me to town by name and said, "Oh, you live in the Hydrick house." In small town south you never live in your own house until you've moved away. On the next trip to the bank to pick up my new credit card, I was very surprised to see that my card read, "Kathleen Turner." "Yes," I squealed. Alas, that banker recognized the difference and didn't let me get away with that credit card.

So, it's long overdue, but thank you, thank you, Dr. Bales. I O U.

Haiku III

Sistine Pieta;
beggar outside in soiled rags.
Odd origami.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Septembers Past

From my poetry chapbook Searching for Ambergris:

Going Home Again

Two Septembers gone, yet if I walked down
across the salt marsh to the floating dock,
the cord grass would be undulating, a breeze
combing its wavy brown hair, as constant
as the changing tides, or the Waving Girl
on River Street, welcoming seaport traffic.
Johnny can not walk without her walker.

What grows in my window box
I can not discern from the street.
The new owner may not be a gardener.
She may prefer the clean, empty hole.
Millie's chest. Cancer surgery.
I wonder about the Pink Perfection
planted outside the kitchen window.
The bottle brush tree is more a tree,
less the seedling I planted; the lavender
blue cloud of plumbago, diminished.
Lettye's jasmine is still neatly clipped.
On my side tendrils fall away from the fence.
Arthur's fall. Pneumonia. Taken to bed.

The Snowy Egret stands so still at the creek
he might be a painting on the mud flat
until his quick beak slices the water.
Crabs scuttle about feeding at low tide.
The Great Blue Heron sits fishing
for shrimp wriggling back into the creek
as the water drains homeward to the sea.

Too early in the day for the river otters
to be wallowing at their sleek black play.
They wait for sunset, for the white sails
of the three tethered tall ships to turn
the color of March azaleas and hawthorns.
Gerald. Broken hip. Moved to Azalealand.
Marsh hens clack to the drone
of the fiddlers. Raucous repetition.
Emma. Lila. Joe. All dead.

And some midnights Randal sits dressed, considers
waking to yet another daylight. World Trade Towers.
Customs meeting. His weekend military defense duties
failed him. No foxhole to shield him from raining bodies.
He used to carry a laughing pose of his two lovely daughters;
now he fingers inside his coat pocket twin buildings, burning.

Pear Butter, Pear Preserves

Confederate Rose buds

Confederate Rose bush

Bleeding Hearts, Butterflies

Ginger Lilies, waning

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pears, Poetry, or Prose?

September has its bittersweet choices: generally, I wake up during this month and realize that somehow I've whistled the summer away with the cricket and decide to become the ant again--writing, revising, or marketing my written stuff. Invaribly, though, I start wondering about the old pear tree in Anniston. Every year we think it will die. Every year its few remaining limbs cluster up with pears the way muscadines cluster. And then...well, some days words have to take a back seat to the fruits of the season.

When I come to this web site, I know that I truly am living on a different planet. Not a soul has responded to the Hudson Strode call and it's about time to turn that piece in to John Sledge at the Mobile Press-Register. Good thing I have my own resources. And yet that meter shows that a whole slew of people  have visited. That meter counts about the way I do.

No matter. I start off with some 2000 words in an essay which I know should only be 800 words long. Newspaper space is limited. So I trim, and whittle, and whack, and cut, and paste, and squeeze those words. I'm now down to 997, not counting the title. I've saved some of the "out takes." They're probably better just numbered on a page than the essay, cut, bleeding, and bandaided.

Numbers can take me right back to pears in an instant. Take a look at at the gold in my kitchen. After this batch Monday, on Tuesday I peeled, chopped, cooked, and canned six more pints with three half-pints of mostly syrup left over. My oldest sis who taught me this dying art, and who can not longer can anything, assured me that sometimes pears are just juicier than others. I'd already learned from her that if you make pear preserves every day until you die, you won't have one batch turn out the same. Old philosophy comes easier to her than what she did this morning.

It is a shame to know so much and not be able to say it. Honestly, isn't that why we blog? Who's going to sit and listen to our little personal daily drivel? Before last year I had at least three good friends who would. Today would be the birthday of Katonah Summertree; today is the death date of Carolyn Watson. Johnny Bowyer was a third; they all died within a three-month period in 2010. Both my parents died in separate Septembers. No wonder I feel the need to preserve precious things during this month.

Tuesday's gold.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hudson Strode

I'm writing an article about Hudson Strode who taught at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for years until he retired in 1963. He taught either Shakespeare or Creative Writing to  such Alabama literary notables as Harper Lee,  Helen Norris, and our current Poet Laureate, Sue Brannan Walker. If anybody reading this took classes under Hudson Strode, I'd like to hear from you.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


What happened to spring and summer? Where did the months go? On April 4 I had kneecap surgery. Zoom, there went the rest of spring. Zoom, zoom--now summer is waning.

And why don't things stay the same? Where are my Followers? Did the few I have give up because I've been so quiet? Where are their faces? I've bragged so many times about how easy it is to negotiate Blogger. Hah. who sez? Something has changed; I feel as though I'm trying to negotiate a blog at GoDaddy. That one's a killer for the non-techie wysiwyg kind of designer.

This is a test ti see this will even appear on the screen. And will the date change? Here goes...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Moon River...waiting round the bend, my Huckle-berry friend, la la la...

Ah, what does this phrase conjure up for you? Before this weekend for me it was Johnny Mercer's song, his star Emma Kelly, the poem I wrote for Emma that was published on SCAD's Pen and Ink page, the night I presented the framed poem to her (she had me read it aloud  but this audience was hardly ready or eager to hear a poem about St. Patrick's Day on River Street), and the day I was her driver in Savannah. That day John Berendt first came to town publicly for a PBS fundraiser with city-wide events.

But the story of that day is long and tedious. Today's story will be shorter. This weekend I chaperoned a group of kids in a confirmation class at my church (six 5th, 6th, and  one 8th graders) on a trip back home to Savannah. We stayed on Moon River at Wesley Gardens, a retreat property owned by my church there, Wesley Monumental. While our main purpose was to promote team-building among the students, we also wanted to give them the history of Methodism and something of what the founder John Wesley and his brother Charles did while they were in Savannah.

After sleeping on air mattresses or sofas at the youth room at Mulberry United Methodist, Macon,  the oldest Methodist church in Georgia, with Tommy and Flo Martin, we headed east on I-16. Our next stop was lunch with my good buddies, Rita and Mike, who live just outside Savannah, but who, in our last decade there, lived smack dab downtown on Charlton where they had a b & b. No  sign could be posted because that street--my, my, my--simply couldn't have any commercial signs about. But their home was on several tours and was, and still is, a joy to see. Mike has taken up painting as a hobby and was a great encourager to our students about teaching oneself to do a thing. (His self-taught work was impressive.) Rita served up lemonade and the homemade cookies she's famous for, and personalized her beautiful little book ON HIGHER GROUND for each of the students. Rita did both the photography and the copy for the book and it's a beautiful depiction of the historic churches in Savannah.

Our arrival at Wesley Gardens was, to quote the kids, awesome. The big house, the chapel, the gazebo, all overlook the spectaculor Moon River. Gorgeous camellias of all varieties pepper the grounds. I particularly liked the white ones surrounding the prayer garden commenorating friends gone on. I wish I knew more camellia names besides my fave, Pink Perfection. After a brief look-see and assignment of bedrooms--boys up, girls down, counselor Rev. Emily in counselor's room--we had to get going to Kroger's for the first part of one of our exercises. The six students were divided up to plan and prepare the evening meals on Saturday and Sunday nights. (Both I and Guy, the other chaperone, love to cook.) Each group had fifty dollars to feed the nine of us. Not a bad budget at all--no caviar or beef tenderloin--but we could make do.

Oh, I must use broader brush strokes if I plan to finish this entry this month. Both groups (Chef GaGa with Her Sous's and Five Guys) came in right at fifty bucks; For my group each of the three was to be in charge of the dish they'd suggested: Katie wanted Shrimp Alfredo; my wise 8th grader Daniel actually chose broccoli and a fruit salad, and Maggie, concocted a brownie/ice cream, Thin Mint dessert. Amazing really.

The next night the "Four Guys" (Guy plus Ben, Caroline, and Kate Pride) served up a seafood platter on a platter like nothing I'd seen before. It was a creamy white long oval design in pottery so it held the heat well. Whereas our group had served buffet style, this group gave us this huge platter family style as a centerpiece flanked by a green salad dressed with oil and vinegar. The platter held shrimp, sauted catfish (a team-member's choice), enough alligator to taste (yes, the chef had to do it), and new potatoes, parboiled, sliced, and sauteed in butter. YUMMY. Our dessert was a Thin Mint milkshake. (Yes, it's Girl Scout cookie season!)

Sunday was our formal learning day. We started off with a tour by Ralph Bailey of the Mother Church of Methodism in Savannah, Trinity United Methodist. There I rocked in a chair at the back (for babies or grannies) and we saw a beautiful, old baptismal font from Independent Presbyterian. We also saw a gavel made from the wood of the parsonage of John Wesley.

Next we worshipped at Wesley Monumental where I was thrilled to be back among good buddies: Karen, Dale, Tim, Kim, Alyse, Eddie, Judy, Ron, Susan, Dick, Tim, Anne, Ellene, Tom, Deanna, the Edwardses, Sue, Gretchen, Raymond, Charlie...and so many more. The church has flourished and will soon have a school/daycare on the first floor. I didn't get to go across the street to the Espy House which has also been renovated for office space.

Christ Church, Anglican, (Wesley never left the Anglican Church) and the statue of John Wesley were next. I'm grateful for Corley Nease for being our docent there. A huge white angel (I forgot to ask what it was made of) held the baptismal basin there; that and the raised glass and brass pulpit were eye poppers.

The students were history-saturated at that point, so we skipped the Cockspur Island statue of Wesley and drove straight to Tybee. In the 40's a train took teenagers to the beach pavillion where they danced under the stars to one of the big bands. Teenagers also dared each other to swim from the river downtown to Tybee, technically to Lazaretto Creek. (Luke Bowyer and his wife Johnny, my dear friend, gave me a lot of colorful history for my novel set in Savannah.)

Our pre-teens got their feet wet. The boys actually went in. I was so cold I actually left them with the two other adults and  went back to the van to sit while they soaked each other with splashing! Ah, youth.

All this, and yet it was sunrise on Moon River that defies description, except perhaps in Psalm 8. Take a look for yourself. Let me know if you've seen Moon River.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reflections, 2010

My post-Christmas card is so fat it needs a table of contents. Besides the card, a page of superlatives, and a page of pics, I've been including a five-page poem! Absurd. I've decided to lighten the snail mail load by posting the five-page poem here instead. The poem is a revision of the occasional verse I wrote for the 50th reunion of Northside High this past spring. I've used it as the final poem in a compilation for a chapbook of poems I'm calling BEAUTY AND DISTANCE. (Know any publishers who'd like to publish it??)
And it was this that awed him—the weird combination of fixity and change, the terrible moment of immobility stamped with eternity in which passing life at great speed, both the observer and the observed seem frozen in time. There was one moment of timeless suspension when the land did not move, the train did not move, the slattern in the doorway did not move, he did not move. It was as if God had lifted his baton sharply above the endless orchestration of the seas, and the eternal moment had stopped, suspended in the timeless architecture of the absolute.
On the brink of the dark he stood, with only the dream of the cities, the million books, the spectral images of the people he had loved, who had loved him, whom he had known and lost. They will not come again. They never will come back again.
                                                                                        -Thomas Wolfe
                                                                                          Look Homeward, Angel

Going Home: 176 Days
on the occasion of the 50th reunion of the Class of 1960, May 15, 2010

Our time spent with W. C. Stamps
that first year learning to drive
could have lasted like ambergris
shut up in a book for fifty years,

fixative for perfume, fecal marine-like
scent sanitized to alcohol cleanness.
We simply craved the open road.

The Drivers’ Ed class at Northside High
was far north of the salt line and the sea;

its pervasive smell was parched peanuts
packed into Mr. Stamps’ front pockets,
inciting four girls an hour to practice
a skill the boys had learned plowing,
and the more adroit girls, by some means.
With new licenses steaming in wallets,
a smattering of rising seniors from Gorgas,

and a fistful from Montgomery jostled
on separate buses across the county
to be greeted that fall of ‘59 with red clay;
barefoot, we salvaged our socks and shoes,
rinsing our feet inside in shiny-white sinks

scrubbed by my brother, custodian
of the rainbow of gladiolas, his annual garden
border. Our class chose red as its favorite.
Educated apart in two warm white wooden
structures, fifty seniors posed together in lines
for the picture, each one stretching to find
a safe corner inside new cold brick walls.

Their old schools were the age of the Brownville
Community Building where Methodist and Baptist
alternated Sundays, except for weddings and funerals.
Daddy didn’t miss a Sunday and Mama, only a few.
So for my wedding the crowd was mixed. It’s gone, too—
abandoned, burned to the ground, the last sentinel
of a once-idyllic village of creosoted homes, rotted down.

That August day its two stories were illumined
in the wavy heat of dog days; Mama wore blue eyelet
that matched both her eyes and Daddy’s. His long
stride moved me right along down the aisle,
a farmer’s tan above his unnatural collar and tie.
He raised his more natural hand, nodding
to the crowd, to Chappy Pate, who waved back.

Daddy complained about worldly ballgames
the way we girls did our p.e. bloomers,
bloused blue cotton, as hard to swallow
as the concept of so much newness:
new alma mater, new mascot, new colors
new flower, new officers, new song?
Oh, if we could only find our song leader.

Janie might have chosen
Down in the Valley
or Barbara Allen
the tunes she’d led
in elementary school
after the daily Bible recitation
and the pledge of allegiance.

Not a one of us knew by heart
the words of The Bells of St. Mary’s
by Bing Crosby; Ma and Pa Kettle
were our only movies. Rowdy Yates
had replaced Lash LaRue. The Bells
we would come to know was about
saving a Catholic school from shut-down.

Our churches—Phillips Chapel, Friendship, El Bethel, Nazareth,
Haygood, Tabernacle, Concord, Mt. Hebron, Mt. Zion, Campground,
and Arbor, Sand, and Sulphur Springs—
had no bells, just Amazing Grace and Blessed Assurance.
The Bells smacks of an inspired faculty member’s
choice for us, a stab to cushion our transition,
a subplot for our own unique story.
Janie, Ludie, Mr. Stamps, and I white-knuckled
the graveled road past Binion Creek and the curves
leading to Mormon Road, past Friendship Baptist
where I walked two miles to summer singing school,
keeping time and mouthing shaped notes, Fa Sol La.
We shelled and munched peanuts as we cruised
past the Dobbs house, my spot to catch the bus.
At the end of the lesson, we could eat a hot lunch
in the lunchroom if we had a whole quarter to spare.
Afternoons I got off the bus under the water oaks
to walk the quarter mile back home, the James Hewitt
place. ‘Croppers, we thinned corn, chopped cotton,
pulled corn, canned corn, shelled corn, picked cotton—
our corn and cotton lives were larded
with ripe watermelons burst open

in the middles to reveal juicy hearts;
with the taste of Alberta peaches
as fresh as the smell of bleached sheets
dried on a clothesline, as tasty
as pork sausage fried in the iron skillet,
seasoned with fresh garden sage:
as we sped along, green bled by and we forgot
the blood and organs spilling from the gutted
hog hanging from the limb for butchering;
we forgot that raw stench
and the smoke burning our eyes
as we stirred the black pot of cracklin’s
to render the fat for the winter
or cooking hominy
in that same iron pot
with the ashes from the fireplace;
we could forget stepping on nails—
or in my case a horse harness buckle,
forget our mamas running to get a rag,
soaking it from the kerosene can—
ah, but we would never erase that nurture,
so we have driven back after fifty years.
We let old voices and faces exude

as the wind whispers on our faces
as we roll along in our cars
you will not remember them
they will not remember you
as it did the night Doris and I
pushed the car out of her driveway,
to drive me home—
you should not do this
you should not do this
whispers we ignored.

Home—this one down the hill, past the commissary
across the tracks near the Quarters. Then Betty Guin
knew the difference between cockleburs
and eggplants. Then the other ten seniors
were still alive; then Miss Pauline Scrievner,
ahead of her time, individualized our work;
wrote daily advice on the blackboard —
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
That one, I was sure, caused her to pause
more times than did either Eliot or Donne.

We met again in another nearly-new school,
with a library more technical than Mrs. Legg’s.
Mrs. Legg—next to Ann you would be my daughter

invited me to town to spend the night,
introduced me to steak, Worchestershire, and the ACT,
expanding my dusty paths to roads less taken,
to the world of the university.

But the question remains like Prufrock’s—
would it have mattered after all,
my decisions and indecisions
before the taking of toast and tea
Would it have mattered
had I never taken that route?
We are not the same; we are the same.
we weigh more, we’ve wrinkled,
we’ve shrunk or we’ve ballooned
we’ve married, we’ve divorced,
we’ve given birth, we’ve died,
we’ve gone to school, we’ve worked,
we’ve decorated homes, we’ve raised kids,
we’ve doted on grandkids, we’ve lost touch,
now we’ve come together for one weekend.

We are the not the same; we are the same
as we drive away tonight
without naming superlatives.
The tallest, the prettiest, the best speller?
The richest, the thinnest, the key quarterback?
The one who will live to be 100?
The one most likely to die tonight?
Who needs who’s who?

How clever our parents and teachers
were, how knowing. How surprising
for it to sink in no man is an island,
we are all a part of the main
that we are all related here
beyond just the blood kin.

The Class of 1960, cousins connected
by that thin, indelible wire of roll call:

Joyce Espey Beard, Doris Braselton, Buster Bolton, Jewell Brown,
Douglas Butler, Becky Cabiness, Jerry Cannon, Eric Christian,
Joe Neal Collins, Nina Essary, Bert Elliott, Doris Elliott, Alice Farley,
Eleanor Freeman, Laudis Freeman, Janie Gilliland, Betty Guin,
Jane Harkey, Billie Haynie, Sue Holloway, Shelby Hyche, Ludie Jones,
Melba Jones, Dora Kuykendall, Donald Lunceford, Tony Lunceford,
Mary Jo Maddox, Nancy Clements Micklic, Mary Mims, Mac Olive,
Sarah Frances Oswalt, Edwin Phillips, Martha Pike, Bernice Porter,
Charles Ray, Anna Loyal Rogers, Billy Doyal Rogers, Tiamons Rogers,
Mary Ellen Rowland, Garlon Smalley, Geraldine Smith, Kathleen Smith,
Jerry Simpson, James Sturdivant, Robert Earl Swiney, Norman Traweek,
Beverly Walker, John Doyal Watkins, Beryl Watson, Wyman Watson,
Leland Wheat, Jimmy Wilson, Raymon Winters

present, here, as we round the Cabiness Grocery
Store corner, driving down 43 or 171 to Northport
and from Northport over the Warrior River
into which particles of our dust will one day
mingle in the gentler wash of a celestial sea.

                                                                           -Kathleen Thompson
                                                         Class of 1960

Message in a Blog

  About twenty Birmingham language arts teachers endured my holding forth yesterday in my current gig as a Road Scholar ...