Sunday, June 28, 2009

It Wasn't That Long Ago

Aunt Mona
* * *

It wasn't that long ago when you played games with me,
Treated me to ice cream sodas at Petrie's Drug Store,
Took me to Saturday matinees at Milwain's.

It wasn't that long ago when you swung me in the big tire swing,
Fixed my hair like Rita Heyworth's and Lana Turner's,
Let me ride with you in the rumble seat of the old Model-T.

It wasn't that long ago when you taught me to play
"Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer" on the piano,
Let me dig through your stash of movie magazines,
And didn't get mad when I tore some up.

It wasn't that long ago,
But it must have been.
Your hair was burnished auburn then,
And now it is sterling silver.

* * *

Happy 80th birthday, Aunt Mona. And thank you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Always a Guiding Light

One Father's Day, back in the seventies, Pitty Pat and I were surprised to learn that we had given Daddy the same Father's Day card. We didn't know until he opened his gifts. We later talked about how long and hard we had searched for the perfect card for Daddy, she in Kentucky; I in Illinois.
And we found it:
A Father is neither an anchor to hold us back
Nor a sail to take us there,
But always a guiding light
Whose love shows us the way.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cake Boss

I was channel-surfing a few weeks ago when I came upon a reality show, TLC’s Cake Boss. And I was mesmerized, unable to stop watching.
The show centers on Buddy Valastro and his century-old Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey. An award-winning fourth-generation baker, Buddy is the mastermind behind the operation and oversees a staff, most of whom are family.
Buddy, 32, is husky, kind of cute (in a little-brother sort of way), extremely talented. And very high-strung. When catastrophic events occur, which is often, Buddy yells in a high whiny voice, sending most of the guys running for cover. Some stay and take the heat, though, and one very big baker yells back. (I suspect he is one of his brothers-in-law.)
Buddy is constantly tackling ornately complicated themed cakes, like a flower pot cake, a super hero cake, a circus cake for Britney Spears’ 27th birthday, a smashing red wedding cake with intricate gold trim. And some of his cakes were in wedding scenes in The Sopranos.
He drapes fondant that ends up looking like silky cloth over layers of wedding cakes; "quilts" fondant, and is constantly placing sugar flowers, butterflys and all kinds of things over layer after layer of one cake or another (they are always making several at a time). “I kinda go into a trance when I’m creating a cake,” he said, “I can see it in my mind.”
But Buddy does not go into a trance when dealing with “Stretch." A tall, thin boy with weird hair, Stretch delivers the cakes. “You better get this cake there on time today,” Buddy yells as Stretch heads out the door carrying a big cake, “Or else!”
Stretch says nary a word. He just skids off in the cake van, bumping over one pot hole after another (there are many pot holes in New York; my head hit the ceiling of a taxi in Manhattan once, and for a while I thought I had a concussion!).
Stretch pressed on, and he arrived on time. But when he opened the door, one side of the huge cake was smashed. (You should have seen the look on the poor boy's face.) A couple of bakers were sent to repair it, but not before Stretch caught hell from Buddy again.
On another day, Stretch delivered a huge cake one day early. “What’s this?” the hotel doorman ranted on Stretch’s arrival, “What’s this?"
The doorman's rants sent Stretch and the cake back to the bakery, where he caught hell from Buddy again. “How many times have I told you to look at the slips,” he squalled, “Look at the slips!”
I don't know how much of the show is staged, but it is certainly entertaining.
Last Monday night’s episode, Weddings, Water and Whacked, was hilarious. Buddy spent days on a huge roulette table cake for a local businessman who resembled The Godfather. He feared he might get whacked if the cake was not up to their standards. So he and two of his bakers rode alongside the huge cake in the back of the van as Stretch nervously transported them to their destination. (They made it, by the way, and The Godfather seemed happy with it.)
And then a bitchy bride-to-be, unhappy with the lovely wedding cake Buddy had made for her, hauled off and smeared red, blue and green frosting all over it! (I must admit, I have occasionally had the childish urge to slap the top layer off a wedding cake or dip both hands into the punch bowl at some formal function. So it was weirdly satisfying to see her ruin that beautiful cake!)
“When I’m decorating,” Buddy says, “I’m a happy guy.”
I'm glad he's happy. But I do wish he would lay off poor Stretch.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Scottish Lass

Gina hosted our June literary meeting on Saturday. Although attendance was low (several members were on vacation), we had a very productive meeting. And Gina's lunch (as always) was delicious.

We don't limit our meetings to stories. Mother records what is happening in the area; what's happening around the world; and what's going on in our own lives. We also talk about memories and family history.

Mother has a memory like no one else, and Saturday she focused on her grandmother (and our great-grandmother), Ellen Kane Elsey.

"Her father said she was the only one of his children who inherited her mother's Scots/Irish black hair and blue eyes," Mother said, "So he called her his 'Scottish Lass.'"

I remember Maw Maw Elsey as a thin, ancient woman (I was ten when she died). But from listening to the adults' conversations, I soon learned she was a very intelligent, witty woman. And very outspoken. Usually dressed in neat dark dresses with lace collars, her black hair was streaked with only a few strands of silver.

She was a schoolteacher. And she loved teaching. She taught for years before she married my great-grandfather, Liburtis Elsey, when she was thirty. And even after my grandmother, Mary, was born, she continued. The schools were too far away to commute by buggy each day, so Mary went along with her each week, and they boarded with families of her students.

"She was way ahead of the times," Mother said, "That was unheard-of back in those days."

Maw Maw quit teaching a few years later, and she and Paw Paw Elsey lived on the farm until they retired and moved into town. My memories of their home in Bardwell are a faded oriental rug and scratchy horsehair furniture; vanilla-scented smoke drifting from Paw Paw's pipe; a big warm-morning stove. And the smell of Lux soap in the kitchen (always a big bar in a soap dish above the skirted sink.)

"She was a wonderful cook and homemaker," mother said, "And she loved tending her flowers and gardening. She had no desire to go anywhere much; she liked staying at home. And she loved to read."

Mother hesitated, a faraway look in her eyes. "I can see her now, sitting in the front yard on those summer days after the housework was done, reading her books and magazines and reciting poems."

"Poems?" someone said.

"Maw Maw loved poetry," Mother said, "I can't count the times I heard her suddenly burst out reciting a poem, right in the middle of cooking, cleaning, washing clothes..."

"The same one?"

"No, all kinds. She quoted Longfellow and a lot of others."

Mother pulled a sheet of paper from her tote bag. "Uncle Tom and I were talking about her not long ago. She taught him this poem when he was little. I remember it, but not all of it, so he recited it to me last week and I wrote it down."

Why should the hard way be the only way up?
Why should the lonely way be the only way up?
Why should one suffer so much through their soul?
Then to reach at the end their ultimate goal,
To find the goal they had sought
Was not worth the battle
Through which they had fought.
(I can't find this poem anywhere, so I'm unable to give the poet credit.)
Maw Maw George (Mary) was with her the night she died. She had drifted in and out of consciousness for days, when all of a sudden she was lucid. And speaking. Maw Maw couldn't make out what she was saying until she leaned closer.

It was William C. Bryant's poem, Thanatopsis.

...By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him,
And lies down to pleasant dreams.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Prince of Frogtown

I have almost finished reading Rick Bragg's latest book, and I don't want it to end! The Pulitzer Prize winner and Alabama Distinguished Writer of the Year has outdone himself again.

Like his previous books, The Prince of Frogtown is rip-roaring funny, fascinating, and heartbreaking. It chronicles the life of his father, Charles Bragg, who was only mentioned briefly in previous books.

What inspired Bragg to write about his father was his relationship with his ten-year-old stepson. (He has no children of his own.) He tells the story through chapters that alternate between his father’s life story and his own experiences with fatherhood.

Since Bragg was very young when his father died, he remembers him as a hard-living, hard-fighting, hard-drinking SOB. But through numerous stories provided by his father’s remaining friends and family members, an alternative portrait emerges. The result is a somewhat gentler, faintly sympathetic look at the proud and unyielding veteran of the Korean War.

Rick Bragg is an amazing writer with a gift for choosing the exact word or allegory to make his point. You’ll find yourself chuckling in one chapter; teary-eyed in the next. But who else but a southern writer can throw laughter smack in the middle of such a tragic story? Rick Bragg doesn’t “pretty it all up” with fancy wording and flowery phrases; he just gets to the true heart of southern storytelling: the language, the metaphors, the wretchedly funny lives, the accents all rolled up into a rich and painful tale.

All Over But the Shoutin,’ a tribute to his long-suffering mother, Margaret, remains my favorite, and Ava’s Man, a tribute to his maternal grandfather, is a great read. But The Prince of Frogtown is more powerful. Through most of the book, I wanted to break Charles Bragg’s neck. But in the end I realized he never had a chance. The cards were stacked against him from day one.
Rick Bragg says The Prince of Frogtown is his final book about his family. But I hope not. I want more!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Take Me Back to the Fifties

I'm afraid I've been remiss in updating this blog for the past couple of weeks; I've been busy writing. But I promise to do better!

An old friend sent me this link (thanks, Mike!), and it brought back many pleasant memories of my school days. (Can't believe it has been that long!) Thought you might enjoy it as well:
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley