Mom is not always right (lies my mother told me)

Unlike the father in the popular Twitter feed, book, and short-lived television show starring William Shatner, Sh*t My Dad Says (Justin Halpern), my mother was never gross or profane (God forbid!). But she still managed to fill my head with some real stinkers.

 

My mother was raised in a fairly strict, upper middle-class home in the 1940s and 1950s South, where manners and social standing were emphasized. Although my maternal grandmother was a Vermont farm girl, once she and my Alabama-born grandfather moved to Atlanta when my mother was a toddler, you’d never have guessed that my grandmother had ever been north of the Mason-Dixon line.

mason dixon

My mother was sweet, hospitable, polite. Things I think I learned from her. She also taught me to love reading, to be kind to animals, and to always have Kleenex within reach. That’s important. We tend to drippy noses in my family, and you don’t want to be caught without a tissue! Of course, in her youth, it would’ve been monogrammed handkerchiefs.

mom
My beautiful mother in 1969. Note the red shoes. This is important.

 

She taught us well. My siblings and I are all excessively polite, maybe not by Southern standards, but we tend to seem goofy anywhere else in the country. We are all neat and tidy. Although I am less neat and tidy than I used to be since I work full time, am working on my PhD, have 5 animals in the house, and live with a wonderful guy who isn’t so neat and tidy (love you, Bob).

ocd.jpg

She also imparted words of supposed wisdom that she honestly believed to be true, but which I have found have either messed with my self-image or made me wonder if I was adopted. Yes, there are baby pictures of me, and yes, I look like my mother, but still…

  • Every woman should own at least one pair of red shoes. She believed this, most definitely, and my sister Ellen will defend that statement with her last breath. But I beg to disagree. I have survived fine with nary a pair of red shoes in my closet. I wore red Keds as a child, so maybe that counts, but I had to wear boys’ Keds at the time because of my short, wide feet, and in the 1960s there probably weren’t a lot of color choices. I wore them because they fit, not because they were red. Ellen talked me into buying a pair of red sandals a few years ago, and during a recent closet cleanout, I realized I had NEVER worn them and put them in the charity collection bag I was filling up. I work in an animal shelter and tend to spend my spare time in my old shabby clogs that act as bedroom slippers. My shoe choices are dictated by comfort and the fact that I have bad feet (bunions, corns, hammer toes; TMI, I know) so red shoes–don’t need ’em, have no use for ’em. Sorry, Mom. And Ellen.

    red shoes
    I think these shoes are darned cute. Not buying them, though.
  • Change your purse to match your shoes. Not going to happen. Ever. EVER. My mother’s closet had special shelves and cubbies for her shoes and purses. She had purses to match every pair of shoes. She kept the purses in silk bags. She paid a lot of money for the purses. When she was in  hospice, one of the things she insisted on was that I take her purses. (We didn’t wear the same size shoes, or she would have made me take those too, I am sure.) I have the purses, and they are very nice. I never use them. One of them is red; she probably hoped against hope that I would buy some red shoes to go with said purse. I don’t have the time or patience to be switching purses. And again, I work at an animal shelter. I haven’t found a purse that matches my grubby black shoes I wear to clean dog kennels and cat habitats. I have 2 purses that I really like and I might switch them out every year or so, if that. In the late Nora Ephron’s book I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, she wrote a whole chapter about hating her purse and not understanding women  who spend large sums of money on collecting them.

She had the same purse “failing” that I have. I felt so much better about myself after I read her book. Just find me a bag that my stuff fits in and let me go. I’ll never find my keys on the first try no matter what magic the purse offers.

IMG_7917
My current purse. Practical and makes a statement (Crazy Cat Lady!). Good enough for me until it wears out.
  • Women over 40 should never wear sleeveless attire. I bought this one for a while. Her point was that women shouldn’t expose the jiggly droopy bits that arms develop with age, unless you’re a gym rat or Michelle Obama.
9899-Michelle-Obama-toned-arms.jpg
The kick-ass former First Lady. Intelligent, well-spoken, poised, beautiful, and the most toned arms ever to grace the White House.

Getting old isn’t for sissies, as it’s been said. Your body changes. As noted in the title of Nora Ephron’s book, necks get crepey. Arms get droopy. Laugh lines appear around the eyes and mouth. And I do consider them laugh lines. I earned those suckers with my polite smiling. Some people call that arm fat “batwings”. People (women, really, it’s only women) even get arm lifts, or brachioplasty, from cosmetic surgeons. We’ve been made self-conscious to the point of obsession about our arms. flabby-arms-gif.gifI spent many years living in a hot climate and avoiding tank tops and only wearing pretty sleeveless dresses if I had a cardigan on at the same time (just to cover my arms). I say, “No more!”  Maybe if I had extreme, super droopy batwings, I’d feel differently. But I see a lot of people out in the world who don’t seem to care how they look. I haven’t quit caring; far from it. But if it’s hot or if I’m going somewhere fancy and want to wear a sleeveless (not strapless, that’s a different thing altogether) dress, I will.

cat dress
Too cute to cover up. Okay, she has pretty arms. But still, the dress is too cute to cover up with a cardigan. (Image from ModCloth.)
  • Similarly, she said women over 40 shouldn’t go out in public bare-legged. Panty-hose at all times with skirts, dresses, even shorts. Hell no. Pantyhose are hot and itchy. They get runs in them. They sag around your ankles. They are expensive and don’t last long. 890071-001Unless we are talking about either appropriate dress for a job interview or super fun colors and patterns of hose and tights, I am out.
  • You’d be prettier if you cut your hair/pushed your hair out of your face/kept your hair short. I still hear Mom’s voice telling  me to cut my hair. Hey, Mom! It’s MY HAIR, not yours. This has caused me endless insecurity about my hair, the shape of my face, my eyeglasses once I had to start wearing them, my looks in general since I was a little girl. Mom used to take us to a place in Atlanta called David of Paris for pixie cuts back in the 60s. I think Monsieur David only knew how to do one hair cut. Short. Yes, it was cute when I was 5.
    pixie
    The David of Paris look.
    Version 2
    Still young enough for the sleeveless look.

    I’ve had short hair much of my life, and at times it has been a good look, mostly when I was thinner and going blond.

    Seattle and Victoria_0089
    A thin-with-blond-short-hair stage. But I’m wearing a sleeveless dress and no hosiery. Not sure if Mom would approve.

    Then I’d let my hair grow out because I wanted to, and Mom would start on the subtle and not-so-subtle hints for me to cut my hair, or at least pull it off my face. But preferably cut it. I’m trying to tune out that Mom voice in my head when it comes to my hair. I am mostly succeeding these days, mostly, kinda sorta…Should I cut it?

    me now
    Bangs, shoulder length hair, glasses. It’s a look I am happy with. And if I have Pugcat with me, no one’s looking at my hair anyway!
  • If you can’t sleep, close your eyes and lie still. You’ll at least be rested in the morning. FALSE. I still try this. It does not work. Mom would tell me this most often when I couldn’t sleep the night before the first day of school every year. I would lie in bed, eyes squeezed shut, and imagine all the awful things that might happen in the upcoming school year, dread filling me, my stomach hurting. I still have sleepless nights, and I lie there, looking at the clock once in a while, thinking I’ll rest, when I’m actually a churning ball of anxiety over whether I’ll ever get to sleep. During one really bad spell of insomnia, I would throw in the towel and get up and bake in the middle of the night. I went on a quest to make the perfect morning bun–those flaky twists of buttery croissant dough, coated with cinnamon sugar and baked in muffin tins. This took quite a few batches to perfect (which I did, thanks to Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery.

    Each morning I would take the resulting pastries to work. I was exhausted, but popular. Now if I get up, it’s either to read or to write. The insomnia is generally now a case of too much caffeine in my system, but it’s just as exhausting as the dread-filled kind.

  • If you feel a sore throat coming on, gargle with warm saltwater. Maybe there is some truth to this, but I hated it. I suffered from a lot of sore throats growing up, and I still wish some doctor had ordered a tonsillectomy for me. But they quit doing them routinely to kids around the time I was born. My Vermont farmgirl grandmother had trained as a nurse and worked in a hospital in New York, where she met my doctor grandfather. The warm saltwater gargle was her thing. Mom would make me take a big glass of the stuff into the bathroom to gargle with anytime I mentioned a tickle in my throat. I’d still get a sore throat, and my mouth would taste of salt. Maybe it is what led to my weird love of salt now. I’ll put flakes of it on my tongue to suck on, and I adore Dutch salty licorice. Maybe I’ll try sucking on salty licorice next time I feel a sore throat coming on.licorice

 

 

I’m sure there are gems of my own I would impart to the daughter I never had. She’d probably roll her eyes, and do just the opposite. What are my truths?

  • Dark chocolate makes everything better. Maybe not literally. You’ll still be ill or broke or alone. But the chocolate will make it just a little bit better somehow. I swear.
    dark
    Medicinal chocolate. (Image from Scientific American.)

    If you don’t believe me, do you trust Scientific American? Writer Katherine Harmon Courage descibed the health benefits of chocolate in scienctific terms in the article “Why is dark chocolate good for you? Thank your microbes.”

  • Your feet are too important for cheap or uncomfortable shoes. That was something my ever-wise maternal grandmother said, and I totally ignored her about this topic until I started to have trouble with my feet. Somehow my grandmother managed to wear good shoes that still looked stylish, but I haven’t managed that. I’ll stick with my flat, sensible, square-toed shoes. Have I mentioned that I work at an animal shelter?

    womens-skechers-go-mini-flex-walk-slip-on-walking-shoe-black-walking-shoes
    Skechers, my shoe of choice these days.
  • Read every day. Pretty simple. I will brook no argument on this one.

    morpheus-1.jpg
    You wouldn’t argue with this guy, would you?
  • Everyone should have a creative outlet. Whether it is writing, drawing, sewing, music, cooking, making models of castles out of matchsticks, whatever floats your boat. Do something that makes you happy and let’s your mind drift away from your cares and worries.

    Bob Ross.jpg
    Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting, as seen on PBS.
  • I’ll finish with a quote from the writer C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), sent to me on my birthday by sister Ellen.  “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” Lewis was a brilliant man. Don’t doubt that.
    Lewis.jpg
    C. S. Lewis

     

I intend to follow his advice to the end of my days.

Dream. Dream small, dream big, but dream. Don’t stop.

Five Little Poopers and How They Grew (apologies to Margaret Sidney)

We have foster kittens in the house again! Beautiful momma cat Cola arrived to us with her 1 week old babies Squirt, Soda, Pop, Fizz, and Bubbles, on April 2. In the week we have been watching them, they have shown so much change. I can sit and watch them for hours. And I do, believe me, much to the chagrin of my instructors at Saybrook University, who keep waiting for me to submit this semester’s essays on the human animal bond. Instead of writing about it, I am living it! They have me mesmerized.

Here is the family on the first day they came to stay with us.

 

 

These little bundles of love and joy get bigger, stronger, and more active every day. I feel so privileged to be a part of their journey to finding new homes with loving human families.

It was a bit of a challenge to sort out which little one is which, but on the day of their first weigh-in we tried our best.

Day 7 collage

I’ve been waiting for a mom with 5 babies to come along just so I could use the title Five Little Poopers and How They Grew, a nod of a sort to Margaret Sidney’s series of books, Five Little Peppers. The first in a series of 12 books (published 1881-1916), The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew was a childhood favorite of mine. As I’ve written before, as the youngest child of a young, pretty widow, I was fascinated by stories of widowed mothers with spunky children, everyone pitching in and getting into all kinds of hijinks.

Harriett_M_Lothrop_from_American_Women,_1897_-_cropped
Margaret Sidney was the psuedonym of Harriet Mulford Stone Lathrop (1844 – 1924).

Five Little Peppers book cover

Margaret Sidney considered the series done after 4 books, but pressure from her fans prompted her to keep writing. The series, in order:

  • Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1881)
  • Five Little Peppers Midway (1890)
  • Five Little Peppers Grown Up (1892)
  • Five Little Peppers: Phronsie Pepper (1897)
  • Five Little Peppers: The Stories Polly Pepper Told (1899)
  • Five Little Peppers: The Adventures of Joel Pepper (1900)
  • Five Little Peppers Abroad (1902
  • Five Little Peppers At School (1903)
  • Five Little Peppers and Their Friends (1904)
  • Five Little Peppers: Ben Pepper (1905)
  • Five Little Peppers in the Little Brown House (1907)
  • Five Little Peppers: Our Davie Pepper (1916)
all 12 books
Someday I will own them all!
kindle collection
For now, I will settle for the much cheaper alternative of the Kindle version of the complete set.

In 1939, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew was released as a film, with Edith Fellows receiving top billing as sister Polly.

castfivelittlepeppersandhowtheygrew1939_188x140_10262012071013
The cast of the film version of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1939).

 

poster

 

Of course, as the youngest in my family, my favorite Pepper was baby sister Phronsie (short for Saphronia). She was also the sibling saddled with the least common name in the family, another trait I share with her. In the film version, she was played by adorable little Dorothy Ann Seese.

das
Dorothy Ann Seese (1935-2015) was considered to have the potential of Shirley Temple. She appeared in 11 films between 1939 and 1955. She became a data analyst and then a paralegal.

When I finally saw the movie, not so long ago, I became seriously concerned for the kitten actor who appears as a gift to Phronsie. Phronsie hauls that poor little thing around like an old sock, and I became concerned for the welfare of that long gone cat.

littlest pepper with her kitten
Phronsie and her kitten.

Apparently I’m not the only one who was concerned for the kitten. I found pictures of the kitten in several scenes, marked with a red arrow to show that the kitten was alive and kicking and still in the movie.

 

I’ve been oddly fascinated with the number 5 recently. Biblically, the number 5 supposedly signifies the grace of God because man was created with 5 fingers on each hand, 5 toes on each foot, and 5 senses. In other traditions and readings, the number 5 represents balance, health, love, marriage, the human (the 4 limbs and the head that controls them), peace, harmony…

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 2.10.48 PM

Other odd things about the number 5: there are 5 vowels in the English language, an earthworm has 5 hearts, many (but not all) starfish have 5 arms. Back to the Bible, David was armed with 5 stones when he killed Goliath. I am generally opposed to throwing stones at anyone or anything, but it’s a good story as far as parables go. With faith and determination, you can do what you set out to do.

5 stones

 

Legendary designer Coco Chanel considered 5 to be her lucky number. Her most successful and iconic perfume, Chanel No. 5, was released on May 5, 1922. She purportedly said, “I always launch my collection on the 5th day of the 5th month, so the number 5 seems to bring me luck – therefore, I will name it No 5.”

 

 

I am currently reading Louise Penny’s 9th novel in her Inspector Gamache series, titled How the Light Gets In. Gotta love a book that references singer/songwriter/poet/ordained Buddhist monk Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

 

leonardcohen

 

Here is the song performed by 2 amazing singers, Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla, who were both backup singers for Leonard Cohen, or his angels, as he called them.

 

In the Inspector Gamache book (yes, back to the book, there is a reason I brought it up), How the Light Gets In is a mystery surrounding the famous Ouellet quintuplets, a fictional set of 5 identical sisters based on the real-life Dionne quintuplets (born 1934) and the story of their family ceding custody of the girls to the government of Ontario, which made millions of dollars off of them a tourist attraction.

dionne infants
Ontario premier Mitchell Hepburn with the Dionne quintuplets.

The Dionne quints were the first known quintuplets to have survived infancy. In 1934, such a birth was headline news and not a common occurence. Now, with fertility drugs and medical interventions, such a story would not be the rarity it was then. In the midst of the Depression, the world was hungry for what they thought was a happy story. But the true story of the Dionne sisters is much darker; they were watched, examined, kept by Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe in his Dafoe Hospital and Nursery with the support of the Ontario government.

Quintland
Living facility constructed by the government of Ontario for the quintuplets, surrounded by barbed wire fencing. It became known as Quintland and was a tourist attraction.

 

The parents were poor, unable to make ends meet, and already had 5 older children to support, so the girls were taken away at 4 months of age, exploited, exhibited publicly several times a day. They didn’t see their parents Oliva-Edouard and Elzire Dionne until they were 9 years old, in 1943, when Oliva and Elzire won custody of the girls back from the government. In later years, the girls described being sexually abused by their father. They had all left home by the age of 18.

 

next showing sign
Never thought of indvidually, sisters Annette, Émelie, Yvonne, Cécile, and Marie.

 

Émilie became a nun, but died young at age 20 from suffocation during a seizure. Marie died of a brain tumor at age 35. In the 1990s, surviving sisters Annette, Cécile, and Yvonne, living in poverty, received a settlement from the government, but it could, of course, not make up for the abuses they suffered. They also told their story in the book Family Secrets, with writer Jean-Yves Soucy. Yvonne died of cancer in 2001.

 

3 sisters in 1998.jpg
Annette, Yvonne, and Cécile in 1998.

 

As far as I can tell, Annette and Cécile are still living.

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 12.07.04 PM
Cécile and Annette in 2017.

family secrets

 

Morbid curiosity on my part? Probably. Partly. It is a fascinating story. Not necessarily murderous as in the Louise Penny fictionalized version, but still dark and tragic.

 

 

As for my 5 little ones, their mother is taking quite good care of them, and they are on the path to very happy lives. Yes, I love to show pictures of them and it would be great for people to spend time with them, socializing them to human company. But I don’t get any benefit from them other than tremendous happiness and the feeling that I am doing something good in the world. Priceless.

 

 

I love all 5 of the babies, and their momma, to pieces and would never do anything to hurt them in any way. But I do want to share them with you. Everyone needs a little kitten photo break in their day.

Cola today
Mother cat Cola.
Squirt latest
Squirt, the only boy.
Soda latest
Lively adventurer Soda.
Pop latest
Serious looking Pop.

 

Fizz today
Curious Fizz.

 

Bubbles today
Tiny Bubbles, the smallest of the siblings. The smallest always holds a special place in my heart.

(I am aware that Tiny Bubbles is a 1966 song from singer Don Ho, but I am not going there right now. You’re welcome.)

I wish them loving adoptive families, long healthy lives, happiness cat-style, safety, delicious nutritious food, and bright sunny windows. That’s 5 things. I am sure I can come up with more, but this seems a fitting place to stop.

Consider fostering for your local shelter. You’ll be glad you did.

foster

 

Read books. Read every day. Seriously.

read

 

Peace and hugs (and kittens).

IMG_7029.jpg

 

Bright lights, long shadows, and mementos

Memento:  something that serves to warn or remind; also: a souvenir.

bracelets

When I looked up memento on Merriam Webster, I wasn’t expecting the word “warning” to be a part of the definition. But given the reason I looked it up, it’s actually apt to include warning in my thoughts. Then I looked up memento mori, thinking of the movie Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) and the story Memento Mori (Jonathan Nolan, published 2001). “A reminder of mortality.” Yikes. Even more appropriate. I followed up with memento vivere (a popular tattoo according to the internet): in Latin, remember that you must live; a reminder of life, a reminder of the pleasure of living.

memento poster3 Ryan

 

Christpher and Jonathan Nolan
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. Jonathan came up with the story and proposed it to Christopher as an idea for a script. Jonathan’s original story was published after the movie was released.

 

I read a line in a book I just started, Setting Free the Kites by Alex George (2017):

But such a bright light casts long, dark shadows.

George’s narrator is speaking of his friend Nathan, but it made me think of a dear friend of my own.

 

Late last year, a friend of mine took her own life.  She was a bubbly, enthusiastic, cheerful person. So many of us were stunned that her bright light hid such dark shadows. Pain, despair. She was always helpful to everyone else, but left her own needs secret from us.

She befriended me and my dog Einstein when we were new in the neighborhood and feeling friendless. She and her Friday dog invited us on walks and playdates. We both joined a neighborhood book club. We went out together to concerts and restaurants. I didn’t see her regularly or often, but when I did, I always felt comfortable (hard for an introvert) and had a good time. She had the most amazing smile and dimples. Laughter came easily. She really was a bright light.

Just last weekend her family held an estate sale at her house down the street from me. I briefly thought of going in and picking up some memento of my friend. I couldn’t do it. I drove past on my way to work and kept going. Partly, it seemed ghoulish, going to a sale at her house and going through her things to buy something. I decided I’d prefer to remember her one of the times we went out together, for tacos at Xolo and then a Damien Rice concert at the Fox Theater on April 23, 2015.

 

 

I had bought 2 tickets, hoping I’d find someone to go with me. Trying to be a “glass half full” kind of person and hoping for the best, I posted that I had an extra ticket. She was the first to respond. She wasn’t sure she knew who Damien Rice was, but it wasn’t just about a free ticket. She wanted to do something with me; it felt genuine. We met at Xolo, had a great meal and caught up. At the Fox, I had splurged on not terrible tickets. We goofed around taking photos of the giant Hindu-deity figures that flank the stage.

We chatted with the people in the seats on either side of us. We were mesmerized by Markéta Irglová, who opened for Damien and also sang backup on a few of his songs. She recognized a few of Damien’s songs. It was a great night.

marketa.jpg
Markéta Irglová

 

Life got busy for both of us. We didn’t see each other often. She changed jobs, worked a lot of extra hours. I changed jobs twice. My schedule shifted to weekends and evenings. We liked each other’s Facebook posts. She was always the first to respond when dog Einstein posted on his Facebook page (he can be quite witty). At some point, she wasn’t responding any more. I didn’t give it a lot of thought.

Another mutual friend messaged me, asking if I’d heard the news. She was gone. I went to the service, cried with her friends and family, wished I’d noticed something was wrong. We all asked what we could have done. Maybe that’s the memento I carry forward–an awareness of suicide prevention and the ending of the silence around suicide. As well as the notions of memento mori and memento vivere: remembering our own mortality and embracing life.

end the silence

 

My mother passed away in 2009. I have several mementos of her, but one of my favorites and maybe one of the silliest to an outsider is her beloved cookbook, Noted Cookery: Favorite Recipes from Friends of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1969).

Noted Cookery

It’s hard to explain how much this cookbook meant to my mother and the sentimental value it possesses for me and my siblings. We still cook some of her flagged recipes from it, as they are old family favorites and standards at family gatherings. They aren’t vegan, so I don’t indulge anymore, but I still have fond memories of helping mom make the Broccoli Puff or the Hello Dolly bars (aka 7-layer magic bars).

 

The cookbook, one of those fundraiser efforts of recipes submitted by various community members, was a Christmas gift to my mother from her sister Isabelle and her family in 1970, part of the reason for its importance to Mom.

Noted Cookery signed

 

As kids, we were fascinated by the list of contributors, some of whom we had heard of and I still don’t know what their connection to the Dallas Symphony was (but it doesn’t really matter; they generously contributed). Mrs. Bob Hope (Bob Hope’s Favorite Lemon Pie) and Danny Kaye (Chicken with Peppers) were notable among them. Later, I saw names that I had come to recognize: actress Loretta Young (Bride’s Delight), opera great Leontyne Price (Crabmeat Imperial), Mrs. Lyndon Johnson (Pedernales Chili), Mrs. Ross H. Perot (Crabmeat Aspic Salad and Mocha-Nut Tortoni), Mrs. Ronald Reagan (Sweet Potatoes Supreme and Orange Sparkle Cookies), Mrs. Richard Nixon (Apricot Nut Bread), violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin (Birchermuesli), actress Greer Garson (English Trifle).

 

Don’t discount that lemon pie. Bob Hope lived to be 100, and Dolores Hope to 102. And Danny Kaye is said to have loved to cook and to have been quite a good one. Food writer Ruth Reichl, in a piece she wrote after Kaye’s death in 1987:

“It may be the sense of timing he developed as a comedian, or the balance he learned in music. It may be the generosity of somebody who gave so much of his time to charity. Or the sheer gusto of the baseball lover (you should have heard his discourse on hot dogs). Or maybe it was the much-vaunted hand-eye coordination that made his cooking so incredible. But there was something more.

Danny Kaye didn’t cook like a star. He didn’t coddle you with caviar or smother you in truffles. He had no interest in complicated concoctions or exotic ingredients. His taste was absolutely true, and he was the least-pretentious cook I’ve ever encountered. The meals he made were little symphonies–balanced, perfectly timed, totally rounded.”

danny cooking

 

Some of the recipes in Noted Cookery horrified us. Hot Citrus Fruit Salad? No thanks! Same to the equally horrific Hot Pineapple Salad on the same page. Blech.

Hot Citrus Fruit Salad
Make and consume at your own risk.

 

Others we loved, partly for the names. Johnny Bozzini, You Asked For It. Remember, it was 1970 and these recipes ddidn’t seem quite as odd as they do to at least me now. Lots of canned soups and weird things in jars.

 

The cookbook was lost in a house fire in 1987. Mom managed to save the page with her beloved sister’s inscription, but the rest of the cookbook was a charred lump. She put the remnant in a plastic bag and made the recipes she loved best from memory. Years later, around 2004, I was volunteering at a library fundraising book sale. I always look at the cookbooks for hidden gems. There it was, sitting on the shelf, easily recognizable to me with its ochre yellow cover. For fifty cents. I grabbed it, feeling the sense of excitement I might have felt finding a rare first edition of Catcher in the Rye. I managed not to spill the proverbial beans on my weekly phone call with mom, awaiting the look on her face at the surprise when I gave her the book. My next visit, I presented the book. I don’t remember if she cried. More than likely she did. We cry easily in my family; tears of happiness as well as tears of sorrow. We sat down and perused the old recipes. A trip down memory lane. She put bookmarks in at the old favorites, even though she knew the recipes by heart.

When she passed away a few years later, we were going through her things. Somehow that cookbook had taken on an even greater significance for me after having reunited her with it. It’s a memento of her and our earlier family life that I treasure. It sits with my other cookbooks, rarely used but often fondly brought out just to look and remember.

Not so long ago, my sister Ellen texted me that she was making one of the old favorites from what we call the Dallas cookbook: Chicken Tortilla Casserole. Back in 1970, tortilla chips were an exotic thing in Atlanta, so Mom made the recipe with Fritos instead. I’m trying to figure out a way I can veganize this recipe just for fun.

IMG_2251
Not one, but two cans of soup.

 

If you are feeling hungry and inspired to cook, you too can have this gem of a cookcook. I just found it listed on eBay for $5.95. Better idea, think back to a cherished memory and a memento that you can treasure the way I treasure the nostalgic memory of a family, safe and happy, laughing and enjoying a meal together, or the memory of a dear friend who made me feel special.

Memento vivere.  Remember to live.

memento vivere

In the Blink of an Eye (or, thinking about the father I never knew)

I’ve spent the last few years deliberately redirecting myself to keep on the sunny side of life.

il_570xN.660938534_28sv

It’s not always easy, believe me. And I don’t always succeed.

For instance, last Sunday, driving to work, I was behind a terrible automobile accident on Highway 24. It had just happened; Bob called me as he had heard about it and wanted to make sure I was okay. I thought to myself, “Great, I am going to be late for work and we have a crowd waiting for the shelter to open to so they can adopt those 6 incredibly cute beagle puppies that just came up.” Maybe a silly thing to stress out about, but I don’t like being late for work. And people get emotional about wanting to adopt puppies, so the more hands on deck to handle to crowd, the better.

Unknown

I settled in with my audiobook of American Gods (the mind of Neil Gaiman is a crazy place!), and sipped on my coffee, periodically moving forward a foot. Six lanes were being merged into one. People were getting fractious, honking and not letting other cars move in. It was 11:30 on a Sunday; most people were likely on their way to the mall or some such weekend pursuit.

I was doing my best not to look at the accident. Then the CHP officer directing traffic suddenly stopped the single file of cars with me up front, right next to the overturned car, to allow the clean-up crew to move some final wreckage from the one operational lane. I couldn’t help but see the car. Overturned, destroyed, horrifying. It didn’t look at all likely that anyone in the car would have survived. I started to shake and feel sick to my stomach. In the blink of an eye, lives were lost, destroyed, unalterably changed forever. It could happen to anyone.

life slogan

I don’t know why it took me so long to connect this to the death of my father. Stephen Pierre Cottraux, Jr., aka Daddy, was killed in an automobile accident on November 15, 1962, not quite a full month after my first birthday. I have no memories of him. But I grew up hearing stories about him from my siblings, and wondering if he was watching us from heaven.

As first-born, Cathy remembers him the most. I recently asked her about the piano we had growing up, which led her to relate a Daddy memory:

“I have a few memories of Daddy playing [the piano], he was really good. They would have band practice at the house (in Macon) and he played the piano a lot of the time. I remember one night, I must’ve been 8, and he was playing and I was sitting next to him on the bench. I hugged him (I adored Daddy) and he smiled and said ‘Why don’t you go in the kitchen and tell your mama that I love her!’ That’s a memory I have carried my whole life.” She also remembers that Daddy liked to dance and he taught her to do the twist. Cathy was 9 when Daddy died.

Daddy with Cathy and Ellen
Daddy with my sisters Cathy and Ellen, circa 1956.
dad band
Daddy, second from the left, and the jazz group he was in.

Here are some writing exercises I did a couple of years ago that say more:

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

   Number one:  

There are no photographs of Daddy on display in the house. Mom keeps one, with an old Valentine card from when they were high school, in the top drawer of her dresser, which I go through looking for jewelry to dress my dolls and stuffed cats with. We don’t ask about him; I’m not sure why but we don’t. But when Mom isn’t around Cathy and Ellen tell me and Steve stories of what they remember. I love to hear the ones about when I was born, of course.

            “He said if they were all like you, he’d be happy to have a house full of kids,” says Cathy.

            “He liked to feed you eggs at the breakfast table and say ‘Is it good?’; your first word was isitgood, all run together in one word.”

            We watch the movie musical Carousel, and I am captivated by the idea of Daddy up in heaven watching down on us. Especially me. I could sit in the dark den with the late show on the television watching that movie night after night, warmed by the feeling that Daddy is with me.

Number Two:

Mom was only 26 when Daddy died, so we are used to her going out on dates. It’s been almost 10 years, after all. We even like some of the men. There is Joe Kellum, who owns Pizza by Candlelight. At first I love going to the restaurant, red and white plaid plastic tablecloths and red plastic water tumblers, candles in old Chianti bottles, the smell of garlic in the air. He has 2 kids, Mike and Angel. They hate me. They are the same ages as Ellen and Steve. They like to remind us that it’s their father who owns the restaurant and we are intruders. I begin to dislike them and the restaurant and their father.

            The one we do like plays the guitar and sings the Mountain Dew song. We don’t drink Mountain Dew, but it’s still fun. We all crowd around him in the living room and ask him to sing it again and again. He quits coming to the house.

            I love to read stories about widowed mothers with broods of children, like The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. In these stories, the mother struggles, but dating and men don’t come into the stories and everyone cherishes the memories of dear old dad. The kids do what they can to take care of the mother as the years go by. That’s what we will do.

Daddy and me
The only picture I have of me with Daddy, 1961.

I spent the rest of Sunday in a funk, triggered by the car accident into thoughts of how lives change in split seconds, people leave for work and don’t come home again. Families are left behind. Promising lives are cut short. Perhaps the driver had been distracted. Perhaps the driver had swerved out of the way of something, a deer or a piece of debris in the road. Maybe the driver nodded off to sleep. I don’t know.

And then I got mad at the fractious drivers of the other cars, honking and impatient. Put things in perspective, people! So you’ll be a little late for wherever you were headed. At least it wasn’t you and your car turned over in the road. Your life goes on. Appreciate that. And our hearts should go out to the survivors.

My father was so young, and he left behind an even younger wife and 4 small children. In the blink of an eye.

dance
Mom and Daddy, circa 1953.

Of course, good things can happen in the blink of an eye. Falling in love when you look a certain someone in the eye. Making a new friend who will mean the world to you. A split second decision that will change your life for the better even though it seems crazy (like signing up for online dating even though you swore you wouldn’t, leading to life with Bob). Meeting a beagle puppy and knowing she’s the one.

Be open to the special moments, but be careful out there. Don’t drive distracted. Seriously. That one quick text could be all it takes to end it all for someone, maybe yourself.

distracted

The beagle puppies all found homes that day. I snapped out of my funk eventually. But I’ll aways wonder how my life would have been different if my father hadn’t driven away never to come back.

I love you and miss you, Daddy.

The Gold Trail Motor Lodge (Little Shit in Gold Country)

Taking a break from scholarly work (I take an amazing number of breaks from it; gotta work on that), I decided to revisit my memoir-in-progress, the Little Shit Chronicles. This episode takes place nearer to the end of the cross-country trip; we were actually pretty close to our destination of Sacramento, but for reasons I’ve never known (and can only imagine as being not good), we spent some long, boring days at the Gold Trail Motor Lodge on Highway 50 in California. It’s only 37.9 miles from the house we were to be moving into. That’s not a typo, either. It’s 37.9 miles.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 4.33.36 PM

The Gold Trail Motor Lodge still exists, and still looks just the same. JUST THE SAME. The Mother Lode Motel is real and still exists, too. In fact, you have to check in at the Mother Lode to stay at the Gold Trail.

Highway 50 is very much busier than it was 45 years ago, and the town of Placerville is a bit more bustling.

gold-trail-motor-lodge
The Gold Trail Motor Lodge, Placerville

 

 

1969mainstreetlookingnorth
Downtown Placerville in 1969.
PlacervilleBellTower
Downtown Placerville, today.

I would not undertake the 2.7 mile walk along the highway from the motel into town that we took then. We shouldn’t have taken it then, but it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it would be now. But we were young, bored, and desperate. And hungry. My teenaged brother needed food. We would get him food.

cartoon-stoners-6

Don’t misundertand me. We weren’t that kind of hungry. Not the poor, starving childrren you see in the news, children of Appalachia or inner city food deserts. We were spoiled middle-class suburban kids who felt like we’d been deprived of a meal, and we had some money in our pockets. We had been eating at restaurants, some very nice ones, for 2 weeks and our expectations were of 3 solid meals a day. At the Gold Trail Motor Lodge, we relied a little too much on vending machine potato chips and Cokes. Fun at first, but eventually you need something else.

 

In 1972, I didn’t know much about Italian food, or American-style Italian food, except for spaghetti and lasagna and pizza. Minestrone and spumoni sounded very exotic and a little scary. But by this point, I’d already accidentally ordered and then eaten escargots in New Orleans, so a little soup wasn’t going to get in my way.

 

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

The Gold Trail Motor Lodge is right on the side of Highway 50. I’m not sure that anyone else is staying here but us. We are on our third day here. There is nothing to do. At least the equally plain and ugly Mother Lode Motel, next down the highway, lets us use the pool. The three of us sit in the water and spend the change we collected in Las Vegas in the vending machines, sipping cold sodas and eating potato chips while the hot sun beats down on us. An occasional car roars down the road that we can see through the chain link fence.

            Steve has taken to studying the road atlas.

            “It’s only 45 miles from Placerville to Sacramento,” he points out gloomily.

            We hardly see Mom and Van.

            “How far is it into town?” asks Ellen as she drags her hand through the blue water. I can’t see her eyes behind her sunglasses.

            Steve uses his fingers as a ruler and tries to figure out where we are on the red line that is the highway in the atlas. “I think it’s about 3 miles.”

            “We’ve walked that far before, going into Emory Village to Horton’s,” Ellen reminds us of the many treks to our favorite dime store and soda fountain. Will I ever see Horton’s again?

            “But there are sidewalks and shade trees there. It’s not safe to walk on the side of the highway,” I say nervously.

            “I could try to get the keys to the car,” Steve says. I can’t tell if he is joking. Ellen can’t drive; she’s afraid to take the drivers’ test to get her license. Steve is only 14, but he drives sometimes. Van lets him now and then when he’s tired or wants to smoke and drink without worrying about keeping his eyes on the road. I think Steve is the better driver.

            “I’m getting really tired of potato chips and Cokes. There has to be a place to eat in Placerville. Or a grocery store. We’ll walk single file and be really careful.”

            In my head I see us straggling down the busy highway, cars zooming past and the sun blazing down and me desperate to keep up with the others. Then my stomach growls thinking of a cafe with real food and drinks with ice.

            “The television doesn’t work,” adds Steve. “I’m sick of this place.”

We go to our room, put on the sneakers none of us have worn for 3 days, and set off down Highway 50, the sun in our eyes. Ellen leads the way, with me in the middle so I will feel safer, and Steve bringing up the rear, singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

            At about 90 bottles, Ellen turns around. “Oh, shut up.”

            “I wish Cathy was here. She knows all the good songs.”

           Some summer nights, we would all pile in the car, even the dog Tripp, and Mom would start driving and the game was to get her lost. “Turn left here!” Cathy would start the sing-alongs. By the Light of the Silvery Moon, with extra made up choruses, Sipping Cider through a Straw, The Chicken Song. Knowing how much my mother hates to drive, I really don’t understand why she was willing to play this game with us. And we never got lost, how was that?

            We can’t get lost on this outing; the motel is on the side of Highway 50 and it looks like whatever there is in Placerville is right on the highway too. Sweat trickles down between my shoulder blades and my braid feels really hot on the back of my neck. Ellen must be desperate to get out; she hates to do anything that involves dust or sweat.

            It’s hard to talk with the cars roaring past so we don’t for a while. After what seems like hours, we finally get to town. I see a lot of bars. Maybe we’ll find Mom and Van if we go in, but then, we don’t really want to find them.

            “Just down there.” Ellen points to a little side street and the neon lights of an Italian restaurant. We trudge forward, no longer in single file. It’s cool and dark and smells of garlic inside the restaurant. An older woman, wearing all black and a big black apron, comes over to us, concern on her face.

            “The 3 of you are alone?” she asks.

            “Oh, our mom is down the street. She sent us to get some dinner.” Ellen acts like we’ve been doing this all of our lives, not just the last few weeks. “We have money.”

            “Of course. This way.” The woman takes us to a scarred old wooden table, and comes back with ice waters and menus. As I sit down, I can feel the muscles in my legs twitching from the long walk.

            There are several pasta dishes; we call it macaroni at home. A choice of salad or something called minestrone. Ellen says it’s a soup. Dessert and coffee are included in the prices. Another thing I’ve never heard of, spumoni. Ellen doesn’t know what that one is.

            The woman I think of as Mama comes to take our order. She looks at me first. I always want to go last because I’ve never made up my mind, but she looks so worried.

            “Min…min…the soup,” I stutter.

            “The minestrone. Good. You’ll like it. And?”

            “Lasagna.” At least I know what that is. “Can I have iced tea instead of coffee?” I’ve learned to add the “iced”; otherwise I’ll get hot tea out here. In Georgia, tea always means on ice. If you want it hot, you say “hot tea”. It’s 100 degrees outside; why would I want hot tea?

            “Of course. And I’ll think you’ll like the spumoni for dessert. It’s an ice cream.”

            “Okay,” I say, relieved not to have make that decision.

            As we wait for the food, Steve brings up again that Sacramento isn’t that far away, so why aren’t we just going there?

            “I have a flight to catch in a few days,” Ellen reminds us. I don’t want to think about her leaving. Or, I don’t want to think about her not taking me with her.

            “The sooner we get there and find a house, the sooner Cathy can send Tripp out to us. “I wish she could have come in the car.” Steve reminds me of how much I miss the pets.

            “Don’t count on it,” says Ellen. “Van took all the other animals to the pound; he might not send Cathy the money for Tripp’s flight out. And you know how Cathy is about the dog. She might refuse to send her.”

            Tripp joined the family before I was born. The story is that Cathy was getting tired of asking for a dog and instead getting a new little brother or sister. So Daddy took her to a neighbor’s house, where they were giving away black lab/Collie mix puppies. All of the other puppies were black and playful, but there was one brown and white one smaller than the others. Cathy picked her up and the pup licked her face and that was that. I was born about a year later, so Tripp is like one of my big sisters. When Mom is calling us in, she calls the names in order, Cathy, Ellen, Steve, Tripp, Gen!”

            Tripp turned out to be epileptic. We’ve learned what to do when she has a seizure. What if she has one in her kennel on the plane? I miss her, but maybe she’d better stay with Cathy. We also had a younger dog, an Airedale named Sunshine, and three cats: Whiskers, the dignified, older long-hair orange tabby; Luke (previously Lulu), the short-hair orange tabby who is not very smart; and Christy, the youngest cat, who had the 4 kittens that all died earlier in the summer. One day I came home and only Tripp was left. “Van took them all to the pound,” Steve informed me gloomily. “He said we can’t take them to California.” I guess even Van isn’t mean enough to send an almost 12-year old epileptic dog to the pound.

            Mama brings 3 little silver dishes of spumoni. It’s not like my favorite ice cream, mint chocolate chip, or the vanilla that Mom swirls coffee powder into. It’s filled with fruits and nuts, and is a pinkish/brownish color. It melts quickly, so I spoon it up as fast as I can.

            Ellen pays the check. “Time to head back up the highway before it gets dark.”

            “Do you think we will get in trouble?” I ask, the worrier of the family even if I am the youngest.

            “I bet they don’t even know we’re gone,” says Steve. He’s right, as usual.

bot99

 

As usual, my apologies to my siblings for any exaggerations, embellishments, or misremembering.

Now, back to my scholarly work, already and always in progress.

Peace and hugs.

A Bridge Over Troubled Water (A Very Long Bridge)

I’m in a memoir mood today, so let’s spin the flashback wheel to the year 1972!

It’s late July, maybe early August. Richard Nixon is president and Watergate is just emerging as a scandal.

nixon

Gasoline averages 55 cents a gallon. The Munich Olympic terrorist attack has yet to happen (that will be in September). The average yearly income is $11,800 and the average cost of a new house is $27,550.

Fashion is interesting and colorful.

 

Food is weird.

BettyCrockerRedPie_THUMB_3efbd2d0-75e6-40e1-a176-bb493fe4c911_large

David Bowie introduces his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust.

ABBA is formed.

1972ABBAvallentuna

Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is published.

Fear_and_Loathing_in_Las_Vegas

The top movie was The Godfather. M*A*S*H is a hit television show, although I am a Mary Tyler Moore Show girl.

 

Roberta Flack’s First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is the top song of the year, American Pie by Don McLean is number 3, and it is the song that I like better. We all like singing along to Harry Nilsson’s Coconut Song.

 

A portion of my family is on an extended one-way cross-country trip from Georgia to California.

interstate

I am the youngest. My mother, a widow with 4 children, has just married her second husband, Van, a twice-divorced alcoholic who doesn’t like children. Actually, he pretty much hates everything as far as I, at age almost 11, can tell. Cathy, our oldest sister, is not on the trip; she is in Georgia with her husband and new baby. I miss them dreadfully. Our family dog, Tripp, will be flown out later to join us in California. I also miss her dreadfully. Van took the 3 cats (Whiskers, Luke, and Christy) and the other dog, goofy  Sunshine, to the pound. Somehow he spared Tripp, who is a year older than I am and has been around my entire life. She has periodic seizures; maybe even a seemingly heartless guy like Van knows you don’t take a senior dog with seizures away from her family.

This excerpt from the Little Shit memoir (Little Shit is the nickname I obtained that summer) is early in the trip, when are headed from Laurel, Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana.

To do this, we cross the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, an almost 24 mile long bridge that is the world’s longest span over water. That is very long, especially when you are 10, and crammed in a car with two cranky siblings and two smoking adults, no air conditioning, and no end in sight to this miserable summer. Fun times!

Apologies to my sister Ellen for my somewhat exaggerated depiction of her moodiness and carsickness. But she did miss her boyfriend and she really hated that bridge!

[Text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

            We have a quiet breakfast at the Howard Johnson’s in Laurel, Mississippi. Ellen spent the previous night in our room in tears after saying goodbye to her boyfriend in Birmingham. It’s not like she’s never going to see him again. She’ll be back in Atlanta to finish high school soon enough, and he will be there for his second year at Emory. But she is inconsolable, refusing to eat dinner. I love the orange and turquoise theme but Ellen says it’s tacky. She consents to breakfast, but glares at Van between deep sighs. She fiddles with a cup of coffee, the weight of the world on her 16-year old shoulders. I go for the little boxes of cereal that you split open and pour the milk right in, bypassing the bowl. The snap, crackle and pop is the only noise at the table beside the sighs and the clinking of coffee cups on saucers.

            “I can’t wait to see New Orleans,” Mom finally offers as conversation.

          Steve mutters, “I can,” and Ellen just rolls her eyes.

            We load the bags back onto the luggage rack. Steve crawls to the wayback, flashing me his “beat you” grin. I settle in beside Ellen in the back seat. At least I have my book if I can’t have my favorite spot.

            “How can you read in the car?” Ellen looks at me like I’m from another planet. It’s as good a place to read as any.

            Van has decreed that Mom is not going to drive on this trip, which is fine with her, and gets behind the wheel. She empties out the overflowing ashtray and settles in.

            “We’ll be going over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. It’s the world’s longest bridge over water,” Van announces, like he’s reading from a travel brochure.

            Uh oh. He doesn’t know yet that Ellen can get really carsick on bridges and curvy roads. I love Ellen, but I don’t want to be sitting next to her over that bridge.

            “Can we have the radio for a while?” Ellen asks.

            So far Van has been solidly anti-radio.

            “If I hear that damned “lime in the coconut” song one more time, I’m going to spit, ” he says.

            Ellen loves Carly Simon and Carole King but they don’t impress Van either. None of us want to listen to what Steve likes, bands with weird names like Jethro Tull, and of course the Allman Brothers, Georgia boys who Ellen’s boyfriend used to listen to before they were famous when they would play for free in Piedmont Park. So we settle for country music. Mom tries to get us to sing along like we used to, but Cathy was always the leader then and Ellen isn’t up to taking her place at the moment.

            The bridge appears to be endless and hovers uncomfortably close to the water. I’m not afraid of bridges or heights, but the idea of Van swerving the overloaded station wagon off the bridge when he gets cigarette ashes on his pants or spills his drink makes me nervous. Van also probably doesn’t know that I can’t swim.

            “My goodness, look at that!” exclaims Mom. It really is quite a sight, with no end on the horizon. Ellen clutches at my arm. I let her, even though I am not sure how it comforts her at all.

            “You lie down; I’ll scoot over closer to the door,” I offer. The window is open for fresh air. If we go over, is it better for it to be up or down?

             In my mind I see the swerve of the overloaded station wagon and it, with the 5 of us, dropping like a giant cannonball into the water. Do station wagons float? We have the windows cracked open all the time because of the cigarette smoke and the lack of air conditioning. Now I wonder, would it be better to have the windows tightly shut in the event of a water landing? I grab the crank and start turning it, the cool smooth metal feeling like my last chance to avoid a watery grave. I practice rolling the window up and down to see how fast I can do it if called on in an emergency.

            “What the hell are you doing,” Van demands, his mouth pursed around his cigarette and looking at me in the rear view mirror.

            I know better than to answer the question. I stop cranking the handle and slide down in the seat so I can’t see all of the beautiful blue, deadly water out there. But it’s much too hot to burrow, and Ellen is taking up more than her share of the space as she lies on her side and closes her eyes, trying to stem the carsickness. Steve is looking out the wayback at the cars behind us, and gazing at the water as it speeds away from him rather than toward him.

            “Scoot over,” I whisper as I crawl over the seat back into the wayback with him. “Ellen’s going to puke on me!”

            He swats at me, “Go away.”

            “Mom!” I yell toward the front.

            “Mom! Steve won’t let me in the back. Tell him to move over.” I am halfway over the back seat, head and shoulders in the wayback and the rest of me trying to catch up. Ellen, sweaty and clammy with carsickness, is swatting me away with a surprisingly strong hand from one side and Steve from the other. I hiss at Steve, “Let me in, she’s going to puke on me.”

            “Dammit, Nancy,” snarls Van. “I am not pulling over on this bridge. Control your children.” Mom is obliviously singing with Donna Fargo that she’s the happiest girl in the whole USA. 

donna_fargo_lp_dot_records.png

 

Was my mother really oblivious? I honestly don’t know, but it seemed so at the time. And no, in 1972 not a lot of people bothered with seat belts. I climbed around in the car. Dear younger readers, cars did not have electric windows in the old days. You had to crank them. I can’t say for sure there was a Howard Johnson’s in Laurel, Mississippi, but I know we stayed at one somewhere along the way.

hj

 

We did love the Coconut Song. You know the one, “put the lime in the coconut, you know you’ll feel better…

 

Here I am, 45 years later, on a hot day in California in August, drinking my favorite new icy drink, coconut water with lime. It does make me feel better!

coco-lime

Cheers!

Galveston, Oh Galveston

Today we continue on the adventures of Little Shit, aka me. When we drove cross country in the summer of 1972, the routine was that we would get to a motel or hotel (usually a motel) and check into two rooms, Mom and Van in one, the three of us kids in the other. Ellen and I would share a bed if they were big enough, or there’d be a roll-away bed brought in for me. I’m sure brother Steve didn’t love sharing rooms with his sisters, but we usually didn’t spend much time in the rooms anyway.

After an adventurous day and night in New Orleans, we went on to Galveston, Texas. I only knew of Galveston from the Glen Campbell song of 1969. (Rest in Peace, Mr. Campbell.)

 

I did not have a good time in Galveston. When you read the memoir excerpt below, you will wonder if, one, my mother really left me alone in the hotel while they all went out to dinner. Yes, she did. It didn’t occur to any of us then that it wasn’t safe to do so. Two, did room service really take an order and deliver to a 10 year old kid? Yes. And I enjoyed the experience immensely! [Warning to my vegan friends; when I was 10 I was not a vegan; there will be animal products consumed in this story.]

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 8.59.16 AM

 

Galveston 1972
Galveston beach in 1972, photo by Blair Pittman.

I bring up Audie Murphy (1925-1971) in the story. He was a real World War II hero, the most decorated hero of the war, who then went on to be an actor. He had already been killed in a plane crash by the time of the story, but I had no idea. He just looked like a nice guy. I found out later that he refused to do ads for cigarettes or alcohol. He sounds like the total opposite of my mother’s second husband, who was never without a drink and a cigarette. My instincts at 10 weren’t too bad.

 

I’ve figured out from images that it was the Flagship Hotel where we stayed. It was built in 1965 on Galveston’s Pleasure Pier, and severely damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. It was demolished in 2009.

 

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

We are staying in a big hotel this time, instead of a motel. It’s right on the beach, too, and we are up pretty high. It’s fun to go out on our balcony and look down at the water. I haven’t ever really spent much time at a beach before.

We visited Mimi and Granddaddy in San Diego last summer and they took us to the beach. I had to wear that hand-me-down yellow bathing suit that was Cathy’s or Ellen’s (or Cathy’s and then Ellen’s). As usually, I got sunburned. I was embarrassed that I can’t swim, but I just went in up to my knees and splashed around. I’d rather collect seashells or build sandcastles anyway.

This beach looks kind of dirty, but I don’t care. At least we are out of the hot car and the clouds of cigarette smoke, and we can get away from Mom and Van for a while. But Mom insists that we all eat lunch first, so we trudge into the hotel restaurant. Van is weirdly all smiles, and that scares me. He announces that he’s made appointments for Mom, Ellen, and me to go to the hotel beauty salon for haircuts and manicures. Mom and Ellen look happy, but I feel a knot in my stomach. He looks at us all expectantly. Mom says, “Oh, thank you! Girls?” Ellen says thank you. They all look at me.

“No, thank you,” I say, knowing it’s the wrong answer but unable to say anything else. I don’t want to go. I can tell by the look on Van’s face that I am in big trouble again.

“You’re going. And then we are all going out for a nice dinner tonight.”

“No.” I can be stubborn. I am happy with my long wavy hair. My nails are short and stubby and bitten down. A manicure would be silly. And I’d rather be at the beach.

Are they all mad at me? I guess it would be easier to just go along, but I’m in a mood now and there’s no giving in. We go through a few rounds of “Yes you will” followed by “No I won’t.” We all head up to our rooms, Ellen and Mom to get ready for their salon appointments. I’m told I can go down to the beach with Steve, but when they all go to dinner, I have to stay in the hotel room.

That’s my punishment? To get to stay in the nice big room, with 2 big beds, and watch television instead of putting on my dress-up dress with the hated white knee socks and patent leather shoes, and sitting for hours in a smoky restaurant waiting for Mom and Van to decide we can leave? Cool!

I go down to the beach with Steve, but he says there are jellyfish and I get a little scared.     I dig in the sand and the afternoon goes by.

Everyone else gets ready to go to the fancy restaurant that Van’s picked out. As they all leave, Van looks around and says “Thank you” to Mom, Ellen, and Steve. He looks at me and says “No, thank you” with a mean look, and they head to the elevator.

Finally, I have the room to myself! I turn on the television but there’s nothing much on. A World War II movie with Audie Murphy. I go out on the balcony and watch the water below. I take off my favorite shoes, the red Keds that I have to get in the boys’ section since my feet are wider than a “normal” girl, and consider throwing them off the balcony. I think, “That’ll show them.” Show them what? I love those shoes, so I toss them to safety back into the room.

My stomach growls. I think my punishment is supposed to include not having any dinner, but no one said that, so I look at the room service menu. Why shouldn’t I call for food? Van didn’t say not to, so I’m not disobeying anyone.

I pick the most expensive thing on the menu—filet mignon. I know what that is from the other restaurants we’ve been to. It comes with a baked potato. Yum! And a salad, which is okay. I like salad, especially with a creamy dressing. I think I should order a glass of milk, which is what Mom would make me drink.

I hate drinking milk. It’s gross. It always makes me think of the time I had lunch with a kid down the street. I can’t remember his name, but his mother made cheese sandwiches and poured us glasses of milk. I swear I saw that kid spit in my milk, so I refused to drink it. She was unhappy with me, and I think I got fussed at for it by Mom. Ever since then, I can’t stand the idea of drinking milk.

I call in my order, with a Coke instead of the milk. Surprisingly, no one tells me I am too little or in trouble or anything else. My food will be right up. And it is. I sit at the little wheeled table and turn the Audie Murphy movie back on. The sliding glass door is open, and I can hear the sound of the ocean. The baked potato with sour cream and chives is delicious.

At some point, I give up on finishing the food and get in one of the beds to watch the movie. I can tell Audie Murphy is the hero, but that’s about it. I like this Audie Murphy guy. He looks nice. Why couldn’t Mom have married somebody like him? He’d never call me Little Shit. He’d call me his little princess and bring me a kitten. He’d never tell me I’m chubby or make me wear white knee socks. He’d come down to the beach and let me bury him in the sand and then we’d look for sand dollars. We’d have a car with an air conditioner. We’d go back home.

GAL_01

 

In hindsight, it might not have been so bad to go to the salon. It was the idea of being made to go and being expected to say thank you for something I didn’t want that set me off. I was a good Southern girl, raised to say “please” and “thank you” and “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir”. But something got into me that day in Galveston. And in an odd way, I am proud of my Little Shit self for it. You go, girl!

 

 

For my big brother (love you, Steve)

I doubt my brother Steve reads my blog. He’s not a social media kind of guy. He lives almost 3,000 miles away in North Carolina; I live in California. We are 4 years apart. He is my sibling closest to me in age, and the one with whom I share the most memories of our lives after our mother married her second husband, Van. We went through a lot together in the 1970s. But time and life have a way of distancing people from those kind of bonds. He is a man of faith, conservative of politics. I am a woman of confused thoughts, led by my heart and a desire for kindness. We don’t talk about religion or politics at family gatherings, but family gatherings are very rare in any case. He keeps more in touch with our sister Ellen, the glue of the family, so to speak, who tries her best to keep us all from drifting too far apart. The last time I saw my brother was after our sister Cathy’s husband Ralph passed away, much too young. I don’t think we spoke much except to tell our favorite Ralph stories.

Steve was my protector during the Van years. Dubbed by Van as Little Shit, I was always in trouble for some imagined offense or slight. I was honestly a well-behaved kid, good in school, and mostly quietly in my room reading or drawing. But Van saw the worst in me. I’ll never forget Van going ballistic over something I’d done (and really it would have been something minor, like not closing the screen of the sliding glass door all of the way) and chasing me through the house with a two-by-four. It was the summer of 1973, and we had just moved to Gardnerville, Nevada. I was almost 12, Steve almost 16. He was more than a foot taller than me, quick and wiry. I was neither of those things. He got the piece of lumber away from Van and helped me get to my room, where I could lock the door. I needed my brother, and he kept an eye on me.

babies
With my brother, either 1962 or 1963.

In 1972, on our drive from Georgia to California, my brother, in my memories, is endlessly enjoying all you can eat breakfast buffets. There is the time he locked me out of the car in the New Mexico desert, but even that in its way is a fond memory.

My absolute favorite memory of my brother on that trip is at a fine dining restaurant at the Sheraton resort in Tucson, Arizona. Mom and Van would typically disappear for a few days after we checked into whatever town’s hotel/motel, leaving Ellen, Steve, and me on our own for the most part. We spent 2 or 3 days in Tucson, the 3 of us floating in the swimming pool and seriously out of our element. The Arizona desert in summer is a vastly different place than the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.

 

desert
Arizona dessert
georgia-road
Georgia roads

 

eating corn
Me, upside down, and Steve,, in the Georgia countryside in 1972.

Van must have been in a good humor and slipped someone at the hotel restaurant a lot of money, arranging for “the kids” to spend an evening in the restaurant, ordering whatever we wanted and playing at being grown-ups. It’s actually one of my very favorite memories of my brother.

We wore our best clothes. We were shown to a nice table. The maître d’ treated us with the utmost respect, but was probably laughing inside. We were brought amuse-bouche, in this case little stuffed grape leaves. It all seemed so over the top to me at 10 years old. Steve ordered everything that could be made table-side and preferably set on fire. Whenever I see Crêpes Suzette on a menu, I smile and think of my sweet brother.

fire.jpg

This is a  short, unfinished, and very rough bit from the Little Shit memoir-in-progress. But I wanted to post it today because I’ve been thinking of you, Steve.

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

“You’ll get us in trouble. It’s too expensive!”

            Steve looks over the top of the menu at me. “He told the maître d’ to give us anything we wanted.”

            I look to Ellen but she smiles and shrugs. She’s enjoying having our brother act like a big-shot man of the family.

            “And he put me in charge.”

            The waiter approaches, turning to Steve, ready to take our dinner order.

            “We’ll have the Caesar Salad and Steak Diane for three.” His voice seems deeper as he gives the order.

            “Very well, sir.” The waiter walks away.

            I shift in my chair and pull up my white knee socks. “It’s really expensive! He’ll get mad!”

            “He’s never going to look at the bill. It’ll just be part of the room charges.” He signals the waiter. “Could you bring another round of drinks, please?”

            “Two Shirley Temples and a Roy Rogers, right away.”

            I look down at the menu for what Steve’s ordered. Table-side service—I’ve never seen such a thing before, and the prices are so high!

            The waiter brings the drinks and I take what I think is a ladylike sip of the pink drink through the straw.

            “What if he does look at the bill this time?” I don’t know if I can eat with the knot I feel in my stomach.

            Steve counters, “What if he does? It’s Mom’s money.”

            He nods approvingly as the maître d’ wheels the table over and begins assembling the Caesar salads.

            “You don’t like dressed salads or half the things in Steak Diane,” I point out.

            “Maybe I’ll like it the way they make it here,” he counters.

            Eyeing the menu again, he looks to the maître d’ again and says, “And for dessert, we’ll have the Crêpes Suzette.”

half a Gen
Half a Genevieve, Ellen, Steve, Mom and a complete stranger at the Grand Canyon in 1972. Yes, Van deliberately left me out when he took the photo.

 

After a few days of floating in the pool in Tucson, I had the worst sunburn in recorded history, huge blisters on my back that will color my memories of our next stop, the Grand Canyon.

Steve, whatever the times bring or however different our paths through lives are, you are always my big brother and I love you.

Peace and hugs.

 

 

 

Little Shit Goes to Vegas

During the infamous summer of 1972, our cross-country traveling family ended up in Las Vegas for a few days. This was in 1972; Las Vegas was NOT a family destination. It was a seedy place. Celebrity chefs hadn’t flocked there yet. I haven’t been back to Vegas (although I spent a lot of time in the Carson Valley), but I imagine it’s quite the scene these days. Not my scene, then or now.

vegas 72 1
Las Vegas in 1972.

I did not like Las Vegas much. Except for Circus Circus, which was new and fun back in 1972. The 3 of us kids were left unsupervised to wander around Circus Circus, which didn’t do us any harm, although maybe wasn’t one of my mother’s better parenting decisions. This excerpt from the memoir contains several questionable parenting decisions.

circus 1972
Circus Circus in Las Vegas, 1972.

This episode revolves around a stay at Caesar’s Palace. The 1972 version, not the modern one.

Caesars_Palace_in_1970
Caesar’s Palace, circa 1970.
caesars
Caesar’s Palace today.

If you aren’t familiar with Totie Fields (1930-1978), she was a stand-up comic (then called a comedienne), the rare female in the male-dominated field of the 1960s and 1970s. Tame by today’s standards, she was pretty raucous for her time.

FieldsTotieLiveFixed

And then there’s John Davidson. Born in 1941, he’s been an actor, singer, and game show host. My sister Ellen thought he was dreamy.

jd

The two of them performed a show in August, 1972, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. We were there. Apologies to my siblings for any unintentional fictionalizing of the truth, but this is actually how I remember the story. Was 16 (almost 17) year old Ellen really served champagne? The laws were probably looser back then, but there were also a lot of big tips (bribes) to staff that made this entire event even happen. I’m sure I didn’t know the term maitre d’hotel at age 10 (almost 11), but I did hear the term that sounded like “maytra dee” a lot and I knew who that was. Maybe Totie was the opener for John; usually the comic is first up before the singer. Whatever. Here we go; what happened in Vegas isn’t staying there!

[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]

For a change, we make an early start. Not that there is anything to do at the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah.

            “What year do they think it is in Utah, anyway?” grumbles Van. “It’s 1972, not Prohibition. They could serve a man a drink in the restaurant, damn it.”

            It’s a long, silent drive into Las Vegas. I thought it was hot in Texas, but this is crazy.

            “I’m afraid the old girl is going to overheat, and we’re almost out of gas. Gonna try coasting and see if that gets us closer.”

            Van hates to buy gas, so we are always on the verge of running out. Mom keeps suggesting he fill up the tank when we stop, but he hates not just the buying of the gas but the paying for it, so he won’t buy a full tank. I might only be a ten-year old Little Shit, as I am constantly reminded, but I can see this makes absolutely no sense at all, but then, neither does referring to the station wagon as The Old Girl.

            He navigates down the “strip” as he calls the main road into Las Vegas. It seems to be all 24-hour coffee shops and gaudily lit hotel casinos. On opposite sides of the street, competing signs for the Flamingo and Caesar’s are lit up even though the bright sunlight seems to defeat the purpose. The marque for Caesar’s advertises its big show: John Davidson and Totie Fields. Ellen perks up in the back seat. She has a crush on singer John Davidson. I know who Totie Fields is from watching Johnny Carson late at night with Mom when neither of us can sleep.

            Van decides on Caesar’s. It must be a gesture to Ellen; she can say she stayed at the same hotel where John Davidson is performing. He follows the drive to the front and he and Mom go in to get us rooms.

            “Maybe you’ll see John Davidson in the hallway and he’ll talk to you,” Steve teases Ellen. We wait in the car in the unbearable heat, all the windows open and fanning ourselves with magazines and comic books.

            Mom and Van finally emerge and get back in the car.

            “He said to drive around back,” Mom explains as Van puts the car in drive. We head around back to a stark, black asphalt parking lot the size of a football field and a rectangular white cinderblock building separate from the hotel. We have rooms in the addition. It looks like the prisons on television shows. There are even bars on the windows of the ground floor rooms.

            Van hands us the key to the room the 3 of us share. It’s next to the room where the Coke machine and overworked ice machine generate constant noise and even more heat. He and Mom are on the second floor. At least they aren’t next door to us. Small favors.

            The room is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Even the Bumbleberry Inn was nicer than this. Awful red bedspreads on the two beds, nothing to disguise the white cinderblock walls. The television is chained to the dresser. At least there is a television. And air conditioning, though it struggles to provide any cooling effect in the bright white room.

            After showering and changing into our “nice clothes” (my green print dress that Mom made and is way too hot, the dreaded white socks, and patent leather Mary Janes), we head to the hotel. The asphalt is hot and sticky in the shimmering heat. What are we going to do in a casino? As soon as we enter, a scary looking man in a red suit comes over.

            “These two can’t go onto the floor.” He nods his head toward me and Steve. “How old is the young lady?”

            Ellen seems pleased to be asked. But when she says she’s 16, he shakes his head. “No, she can’t go on the floor either.”

            The floor is a loud, crowded, place I don’t want to go anyway. Tired looking cocktail waitresses circle with trays of free drinks, slot machines make a constant high-pitched jangling noise, and it’s hard to tell if it’s day or night. A cloud of cigarette smoke hovers over the huge space.

            “They can stay at the edge, and they can go in the buffet or the gift shop.”

            Van pulls out his wallet and begrudgingly hands Ellen some money.

            “Y’all go on the buffet. We’ll come find you there in an hour.”

            Ellen sighs, but the word “buffet” has Steve’s attention. All-you-can eat buffets with no parental supervision are this summer’s most exciting discovery for him. The Grand Canyon and the Alamo had been cool, but to his 14-year old appetite, unlimited access to food trumps everything. I just want to go somewhere cool and quiet, but I am not sure that exists here.

              It’s been a lot longer than an hour, but that’s to be expected. Steve is still exploring the Mexican section of the vast buffet. Ellen picks at the salad she’s pieced together. We call it big weird salad. You put whatever sounds good on the plate with some lettuce and put salad dressing on top. I have opted for the dessert section. I fix myself a cup of milky coffee. Mom lets me have it sometimes, and since no one’s paying attention to what I am doing, I go for it. I wish I’d brought a book. But there are lots of interesting people to watch.

            Finally, close to 10 p.m., Mom and Van weave their way over to where we sit.

            “Come on, kids, we’ve got a surprise.”

            Uh oh. Van and surprises are usually a bad combination.

            We follow them through a maze of loud crowded rooms and up the stairs to a lobby leading to huge, elaborately carved doors. The big, lighted sign on the door reads “Caesar’s is proud to present: John Davidson and Totie Fields. Two shows nightly.” The lobby is crowded as is every other space in the hotel. We follow Van like ducklings to the maitre d’hotel stand by the door. Van says something in the man’s ear and I see them shake hands, a tiny edge of a green bill showing in Van’s hand.

            “Come on,” he says, looking at us, and we follow him and the maitre d’hotel without comment, unusual in itself, into the show room, and sit at a big round table next to a railing overlooking the stage.

            “Enjoy the show, ladies and gentlemen.” The maitre d’hotel walks away with his head high. How much money did Van give him? He must have won at whatever gambling game he’s been playing. Ellen, dumbstruck, looks like she’s forgotten how to breathe. Steve looks at the sign on the table: “Four drink minimum.”

            The waiter comes over for our order, and points to the sign. Van orders “7 and 7” and Mom has the same. It’s a disgusting combination of brown liquor and sweet 7-Up. I much prefer Sprite, plain, icy right out of the bottle. Sometimes, depending on where we are, the bartender puts a maraschino cherry in the glass, and Van will immediately toss his on his napkin in disgust. If he’s not paying attention, Mom lets me suck on the cherries, the odd, smoky, bitter taste of the whiskey and the sweet sticky cherry somehow pleasant in my mouth. It reminds me of the rum balls we had once from the bakery on Cheshire Bridge Road where Mom used to go for salt-rising bread and cheese straws.

            Van slips more money to the waiter, who nods his head. He comes back with 4 of each adult drink, 4 Cokes each for me and my brother, and 4 glasses of champagne for my underage sister. The 4 Cokes sit in front of me, ice melting and glasses sweating. Should I drink them one at a time, or take sips down the row of glasses, keeping the levels all the same until they are gone?

            Thankfully the air conditioning in here actually has some effect on the desert heat, and keeps the cigarette smoke from suffocating us. The lights dim and everyone stops talking. Ellen squirms in her seat, and switches with Steve so she is next to the rail and a few inches closer to the stage. John Davidson is on first, the opener for the more famous Totie Fields. I pay more attention to the levels in my Coke glasses than to what he’s singing. Ellen sways in her seat to the music and sips champagne. She looks so grown up, it scares me a little.

            During the intermission, Van disappears. Mom chatters with Ellen about how good the first half of the show was. Ellen is starting to giggle, and her cheeks are rosy and glowing. Van reappears, a mysterious smile on his face. He looks pleased with himself. More surprises?

            The lights dim again, and Totie Fields comes out to great applause. She is a small, round woman with large, elaborate hair. She alternates between songs and jokes, none of which I understand, but I can tell that Ellen and Steve are embarrassed. At one point she grabs one of her breasts and says, “What is this, chopped liver?” Everyone laughs. We are the only children in the room, and now I realize why.

             It’s finally over.

            “Can we leave now?” I whisper to Ellen, but she doesn’t hear me.

            Van is still in his seat, with that self-satisfied look on his face. The maitre d’hotel finds us. He hands cocktail napkins to Ellen and Steve. Ellen squeals and wobbles on her high heels. “To Ellen, thanks for coming to the show. Love, John Davidson” is in black ink on the slightly crumpled napkin.

            Steve’s face turns bright red and he tries to shove the napkin he’s been handed into his pocket.

            “What is it?” I grab at his hand and try to pull it away so I can see. “Steve, I hear you are a big fan. Love you, Totie Fields.”

            Van cracks up; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him laugh so genuinely and joyfully before. I think my brother is going to cry. Van has temporarily won over Ellen but humiliated Steve. I am not sure which makes him happier.

Maple-Bourbon-Cocktail-www.jellytoastblog.com-1-of-4

 

Genie buffet
The Genie Buffet at the Aladdin Hotel Las Vegas, circa 1970.

It’s hard to believe this was 45 years ago this summer. Mom and Van are both gone, as is Totie Fields. John Davidson is a senior citizen, but at 76 still active in stage musical productions.

IMG_4635.jpg
John Davidson, 2016.

I get mail from AARP now. But in my mind I’m still that girl called Little Shit.

Nevada Gen
Me in the winter of 1973 in Gardnerville, Nevada.

totie5

The Best Pie in Winnie, Texas (from Just Call Me Little Shit)

Here is another scene from the someday memoir of my summer of 1972. It’s not complete and needs some work, but I’ll never forget stopping at a diner in Winnie, Texas.  We were so hot and miserable. Texas seemed to go on forever.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 9.49.36 AM

I call this fictionalized autobiography;  it’s based on truth but the truth as I remember it from the perspective of a ten-year old girl who lived it 45 years ago. I might have the timelines and details and confused, and some of it might be as I dreamed it rather than as it was.

dreams-and-reality

Many of my memories are about food. I was a chubby kid (still am!), getting my weight issues honestly through genetics and my mother. Plus a love of sweet and salty. My brother, at 14, could and did eat everything. “All you can eat” were his favorite words. My sister Ellen, hating being on the road and having to stop at gas station bathrooms and roadside diners, ate a lot of yogurt when she could get it and cottage cheese when she couldn’t. How I longed for greasy, salty, diner food! But it was made clear that I would be made miserable if I indulged.

fries     Fries versus cottage cheese.    plate-cottage-cheese-25961453

Years after the diner in Winnie, Texas, I read the short story “Full Count” in Elizabeth Berg’s book The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted and Other Small Acts of Liberation (2008), and Janey’s story was so familiar.

 

Here’s mine. [text copyright 2017 Genevieve Cottraux]

I’ve lost track of what state we are in; maybe we are still in Texas. It seems to be Texas for days. My stomach growls. Even though we have an ice chest near my nest in the way back, Van has made it clear that snacking in the car pushes his buttons.

            “What, are you eating again? No wonder you’re chubby.” Of course, this is directed at me. Neither Steve nor Ellen is in the least chubby. Steve is a teenage boy, a bottomless pit of appetite, tall and skinny. Ellen at sixteen, lives on yogurt and Tab diet cola. Mom and Van smoke and drink up front, but we sit quietly in the back, hoping not to rock Van’s shaky boat.

            My stomach growls again. I can’t help myself. “Are we stopping for lunch soon? I’m really hungry.”

            Mom looks back at me, brows furrowed. Van doesn’t turn around, but exhales cigarette smoke with a big sigh.

            Texas heat, cigarette smoke and hunger are making me reckless. “I’m really hungry. Are we ever going to stop for lunch?”

            “Can’t you wait until dinner?”

            I stare at the back of Van’s scrawny neck and wish I was brave enough, or dumb enough, to aim a spitball at him.

            I don’t know if they are really hungry or feeling sorry for me, but Ellen and Steve both chime in, “We’re hungry, too. Let’s stop.”

            “It won’t take long; let’s pull over and get something,” my mother looks at Van, pleading for us. Van sighs again, outnumbered.

             He doesn’t speak, but I can tell he’s starting to simmer with annoyance. There’s a roadside diner not much farther down the highway. The parking lot is full of trucks with Texas license plates. The diner sign flashes, “Last chance to eat in Winnie, Texas.” I’ll take it.

            We file into the crowded but blissfully air-conditioned diner. A friendly, uniformed older waitress clears off a table for us and brings ice water. She smiles at me. I smile back, glad to see a friendly face on this endless, hot journey.

            Van orders black coffee. Mom follows suit. I know she wants cream in her coffee but Van has aimed a chubby remark or two at her, too. He rarely eats, living on cigarettes and black coffee alternating with whiskey.

            The motherly waitress looks to the three of us expectantly.

            “I’ll have a side of cottage cheese and ice tea, please.” Ellen looks down at the damp table and disdainfully picks up a spoon, inspecting it and then wiping it with a napkin. She hates being on the road.

            I’m being my usual indecisive self, fidgeting with the laminated menu, so Steve jumps in. “Cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake, please.” We are proper Southern children in our way, always putting in the please and thank you.

            My mouth waters and my stomach growls painfully. Oh, do I want what he’s having! Would a tuna sandwich and chips be less likely to attract Van’s attention?

            “Your turn, honey. What sounds good?”

            It all sounds good; that’s the problem.

            “Honey?”

            “The fruit plate, please.” I can’t look up at her.

            “Are you sure? Not many little girls order that; it’s usually their mamas.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            We wait for our food. Van relaxes, or what passes for it with him, lights a cigarette. I guess I’ve passed the test.

            My brother makes endless puns on the town name. “Winnie is hotter than poo” sends us into fits of laughter.

            The food arrives. I look longingly at my brother’s plate, cheese oozing out from the burger, as he pours red, silky ketchup on the fries. Ellen barely touches her cottage cheese. I pretend each bite of fruit is a greasy, salty fry.

            The waitress comes back, plates of cherry pie for all of us. “Couldn’t let these growing children leave without some of the best pie in town. On the house.” She looks at Mom and Van as she sets the plates around.

            “You’ll hurt my feelings if you don’t eat it.” She smiles at me and hands me a clean fork. I almost hope Van will call me Little Shit in front of this angel waitress as I take a bit of the best pie I have ever eaten.

 

Today I was going to post the scene in which my mother marries Van, but went with Winnie, Texas instead. Maybe I am craving pie!

Next time. Or maybe something else, who knows. It’ll be the day I wrote whatever I wanted. To small acts of liberation!