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!

The Do It Yourself Museum ©, maybe someday brought to you by the Hallmark Channel ™

I wear the crown of Queen of the Unfinished Project.

queen
Good thing my sister sent me the tiara. If I had to make it, it’d be half-finished.

I enthusiastically start things, to either lose interest or time or both, with the promise that someday I will get back to each and every project. If I start something new and I am not immediately good at it, I give up (for example, my very brief flirtation with the pottery wheel; that thing is hard!). That romantic scene from Ghost? Total fiction.

ghost
Remember folks, this is a Hollywood movie and these are actors.

I finally got one not horrible mug-like thing, applied some glaze to it, and then never went back to pick up the fired piece. And my hands and shoulders hurt like hell for days.

img_0952
Not my finest work.

For years I have wanted to do something with eucalyptus “buttons”, which are easy to gather here in California where so many eucalyptus trees were planted at one time. I finally found an old frame for a dollar at the flea market, bought some glue sticks, and happily glued away for a day. Never picked it back up.

eucalyptus-frame
I actually think it looks cool like this.

My mother was a talented seamstress, but I didn’t inherit her patience. Over the years, I’ve gone through spells of “I’m going to start making clothes” to then get frustrated when I realize it’s best if you take the time to make sure the clothes will fit you when you are done.

fabric-stash
The current fabric and pattern stash.
satin-dress
I had a brilliant idea to repurpose a brown satin tablecloth into an evening dress. It hangs unfinished in my closet, about 4 sizes too small now. I have nowhere to wear a brown satin evening dress anyway.
mending-pile
The mending pile, gathering dust.

I tried quilting for a while. I bought bags of fabric scraps off of eBay, I downloaded quilting patterns, I made about a dozen wobbly quilt squares, and now they are in a tub in a closet somewhere.

quilt
I had good intentions.

There was knitting. I took classes, bought yarn everywhere I went, did finish a couple of sweaters I am too embarrassed to wear, and gave up about 3 years ago.

knitting
The sweater I started for Bob. He picked the yarn and the pattern. I’m probably about 20% done after 4 years. Maybe for his retirement present…

 

yarn-stash
The reduced yarn stash; I cleaned it out a while ago but couldn’t part with the yarns I bought on trips to Germany, Halifax, and Salt Spring Island.

Drawing and painting? Yes, I dabble in those. Have all my life. When I was younger I would finish what I started. What happened? I’m currently into coloring books, but mostly buying them, not coloring in them. I also started a project of drawing portraits of animals at the shelter, but didn’t get very far with that.

coloring-books
Doesn’t it look like fun?
art-journal
Bought on a summer vacation. Again, I had good intentions.

 

When I first met Bob way back in 2004, I was taking a watercolor painting class at Napa College. I enjoyed it a lot, and finished my first painting and was mostly happy with it.

balloon
I finished!

I started my next painting, one of a bird on a branch. It started out okay, commenced going downhill, and went into a tub in a closet. Then Bob decided to write a book. A challenge was issued. If he started writing a first draft, then I would finish the painting. He wrote.

bob-books
Bob has now written the first drafts of not just one, but TWO novels.

I didn’t paint. For a couple of years. I was oh so subtly reminded of the deal a time of two. I would get out the watercolor paints and the unfinished painting, stare at it for about an hour, and put it away again. I began to hate that innocent sparrow. After a long time, I finally resolved to do my best. Bob was on a trip to China, and I figured I’d surprise him. I painted, but not happily. I felt coerced. I hated the poor bird. I said “Enough!” and framed it as is, pretending I’d finished it. Everytime I see it on the den wall, I am unhappy with it. But it reminds me that when you are unhappy or angry when doing something, it shows. Chill out, relax, try to have fun.

meh
Meh. Stupid bird.

Bob has been thoroughly enjoying his writing classes and the group of people he’s been working with, so of course, I decided to give writing a try! My brilliant project–a memoir of the summer of 1972, when my mother married my evil stepfather, split up the family, and moved half of us to California from Georgia on a cross-country drive from hell. It was going to be poignant, funny, and an actual finished manuscript. I bought a road atlas to map out the stops I remembered from the trip, I hung a map with notes on my wall, I signed up for weekly classes.

memoir-map
We took the southern route, through Texas, in the summer, in an old station wagon without air conditioning and a driver who smoked and drank the whole way. Fun times. (The purple line through the northern route is a later trip in the 1990s, in the winter snow. Yes, backwards planning both times.)
writers-pile
My stack of notes and index cards. I could restart that memoir someday…

What I turned out to be good at was making up titles. My favorite–“A Good Title Only Gets You So Far”, which would then be a blank book when opened.

titles-and-ideas
I guess I am more of a concept person.

So what happened? I enrolled in a PhD program and gave up my career in memoir and fiction.

saybrook
I am determined to finish this project!

But I still wake up, usually at 3:30 a.m., with great ideas that I think I should really start putting on paper.

So here we finally get to the tantalizing reference to the Hallmark Channel in the above title.

logo

I am a romantic and a sentimentalist. I have a real weakness for the rose-colored glasses world of the Hallmark Channel. The movies make me happy. I indulge when Bob is at work or his writing classes. I eat chocolate and wish I lived in the Hallmark world of small, charming towns, quirky friends and neighbors, and the cafe that everyone gathers in for coffee and cookies. I still believe that this town exists somewhere.

My latest 3:30 a.m. title and concept:  The Do It Yourself Museum. Please do not steal my idea. It would make a perfect beach read and then Hallmark Channel movie.

By way of explanation: I’ve until recently worked in a lot of museums. I love small town history museums, with old typed labels and dusty cases and volunteers waiting to greet you.

house-museum
A small town history museum somewhere I’ve been, perhaps in British Columbia.

I love to curate mini-collections that no one but me, Bob, and the cleaning lady ever see.

I want to have one of these museums in my Hallmark town. The main character, a down-to-earth middle aged woman (no, not in her 20s, not tall, not thin; this is my vision) drives into Hallmark Town, falls in love with the town, and lucks into the job of running the town museum. She buys an adorable cottage with hanging flower baskets on the big front porch (rocking chairs required) and butts heads with the handsome mayor, who wants to turn the old museum into a commercially-profitable something or other to attract business to the town. As they bicker, they fall in love, and she saves the museum and the town. I’ve got the Hallmark formula down!

If you know anyone at the Hallmark Channel, have them contact me. I’ll either be out on the golf course (see Life Lessons Learned Playing Golf) or at banjo lessons, depending on which I decide to enthusiastically take up next.

In my mind, I’ll be a cool cross between Steve Martin and Taylor Swift.

If lucky, I’d probably be more like these ladies (assuming I ever manage to play a note).

Or I could just pose with the banjo, and pretend I know how to play it.

846-03164971
846-03164971 © ClassicStock / Masterfile Model Release: Yes Property Release: No 1960s YOUNG BLOND WOMAN PLAYING BANJO WEARING PLAID SHIRT

As soon as I finish that PhD, I’m signing up for lessons! I’m sure I can find a banjo at the flea market.