Martindale High School (Martindale, Texas) girls’ basketball team, 1935. My mother, Crystal Barrow is front row, center, holding the basketball. In those days, players were allowed to dribble the ball once before handing it off.
Tennis was her game. Lucyle Dauchy Meadows, my father’s cousin, told me, “When your mother and your aunt Mary Veazey played doubles, nobody in the county could beat them.”
Christmas Day 2015 is the 65th, approximately, anniversary of the day my grandmother burned toast. I wasn’t there, but I heard about it after I arrived.
At the bottom of the page, I’ve added links to posts and to entire blogs about burnt toast. One post instructs how not to burn toast. Another describes what to do when you haven’t followed instructions.
I burn toast.
It’s hereditary. My mother burned toast. My grandmother burned toast.toast
Once when my grandmother was making cornbread dressing for Christmas dinner, she burned three consecutive baking sheets of toast.
My father, who ambled into the kitchen in time to see the process, drawled, “Mrs. Barrow, you’re a failure.”
While I was thinking about that story this morning, I burned the toast.
David came downstairs to see what the yelling was about. I pointed to the cinders and said, “That was the end of the loaf, so we’ll just have to eat it.”
David is more tactful than my father was. He turned away, but not before I glimpsed the corner of his mouth twitch. He, too, has learned about the family habit.
He’s also learned about some habits that are mine alone.
I lock my car keys inside the car. Sometimes I lock the extra set of keys and the cell phone and my purse in with them.
I use a two-quart saucepan to make four quarts of soup.
I hoard both fat clothes and skinny clothes for the time when they once again, someday, maybe fit.
The list isn’t exhaustive, but today is Christmas Eve and I have to get busy.
Anyway, I used to ask myself, “Why do I do these things?”
Lately, however, I’ve thought, “So what?”
I have a good working relationship with the roadside assistance folks: I send money and they send assistance. I’ve helped people this way. One locksmith, in fact, said I’d just made his day by not acting like it was his fault I’d locked myself out.
Regarding soup, when the fixings reach the brim, I drag out a larger vessel and arrange a transfer.
Some years that gray wool suit fits and some years it doesn’t, but it’s in excellent condition, and there’s always hope.
And it’s not as if I’m completely devoid of talent.
Soup is a challenge, but I can pack the trunk of a car so every suitcase, garment bag, and Christmas present fits without spilling over into the back seat.
I can get pills down cats.
My book talks make sixth-grade boys want to read. And that’s the truth.
I make killer ice cream.
Surely these things count in my favor.
The day of the latest conflagration, I found–serendipitously–the blogBurnt Toast, whose author points out that, while regular toast is boring, burnt toast has “flavor and character.”
I like that. Without burnt toast, I wouldn’t have the story about my father teasing his mother-in-law.
So in 2016, I shall say, “So what?”
I’ll try to keep keys in hand, but when I don’t, I’ll call a locksmith and just make his day.
I’ll take clothes I can’t wear to the Salvation Army, but I’ll keep the gray suit.
I’ll be grateful for soup that expands beyond the bounds of my expectations.
In short, I’ll embrace burnt toast, relishing the flavor and character it brings.
“Move the top shelf in your oven to the highest it can go.”
The instruction is correct, but it’s also the first step toward having to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm. Moving the shelf to the second highest level affords a better chance of getting the bread out unscathed. I don’t care any more, but other people might.
“If you do not have a baking sheet, or need to toast more pieces than will fit on the baking sheet, you may place the bread directly on the oven shelf.”
This works, too, but only if you don’t care that crumbs will fall to the bottom of the bottom of the oven and turn into tiny flakes of toast, and you’ll have to sweep them out. You don’t have to sweep them out immediately, but if you tarry, they’ll convert to tiny pieces of carbon that will eventually stick in place.
Warning: Always keep your eye on the bread as it toasts. Bread burns easily and quickly and a simple turn of the head can be enough to turn your golden brown toast into a lump of black and burnt bread.
Today is my cousin Mary Veazey’s birthday. I will not say how old she is. I’ll say only that she is old enough that she’s always thought she had the right to boss me around.
We have had many good times together.
The most memorable, right now, aside from the times we almost broke up church because we couldn’t stop laughing, and the time she made me go on the Cruise from You-Know-Where, is the time we went to the drive-in movie to see TheGreat Gatsby, and her eleven- and twelve-year-old sons–I’ll call them Boy C and Boy G–sat in the back seat griping for the length of the dumb, boring show and yowling to go home.
When the second feature came on, however, the boys displayed immediate interest. It was The Sterile Cuckoo, a cute, sweet movie starring Liza Minnelli. We hadn’t planned to stay for it, but every time Mary Veazey said we had to leave, the boys protested. This was a real good movie, Mom, so we stayed.
We stayed so long that we ran into the scene in the little motel room in which Minneli’s college freshman girl, Pookie Adams, offers Wendell Burton’s sweet, shy freshman boy the opportunity to “Peel the Tomato.”
And there we were, as they say, ketched.
The boys in the back seat were leaning head and shoulders into the front. They were very, very quiet. I don’t think they were breathing.
Their mother and I didn’t breathe either, because if we had, laughter would have bounced off the screen and echoed throughout the lot.
Suppressing that much laughter for an entire scene hurts.
Finally, the camera pulled waaaay back on the two young characters walking across a field of green, accompanied by the Sandpipers’ lovely rendition of “Come Saturday Morning.”
Mary Veazey saw an opportunity and grabbed it. “Okay, time to go.” She replaced the speaker on its stand, started the car, threw it into gear, and tore out of there.
Boys: “Aw, Mom, it’s not over yet.”
Mom: “Yes it is.”
Boys: “But the music isn’t over. Let’s stay till the music’s over.”
Mom: “No, I want to get out before everybody else does. Don’t want to have to wait in line.”
Boys: “Awwww, Mom. We want to stay.”
Mom: “No, it’s late. Gotta get home.”
Mary Veazey couldn’t give me the evil eye because by that time she was laughing, too.
All the way home, we heard from the back seat, “Boy, that was a good movie.” “Yeah, that was good.” “I wish we could have stayed till the music was over.” “Yeah. That was good.” Periodically, one leaned forward and said, “What’re y’all laughing at?”
Then Boy G said, “What was the name of that movie?” They looked back at the still visible marquee.
Boy G read, “Shirley Cuckoo.”
From the front seat: “Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…”
“Not ‘Shirley,'” said Boy C. “The Stirlee Cuckoo.”
Front seat, louder, “Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…”
Laughing that hard hurts, too. And it can be dangerous. I’m surprised Mary Veazey didn’t run the car up onto the sidewalk and get us all hauled off to jail. It’s good she didn’t, because we’d have just laughed harder.
The next morning no one mentioned the movie. But that afternoon, while the boys and two neighbor girls played cards in the living room, and I sat in the kitchen waiting for cookies to bake (cookies the boys were making, hahahaha again), I caught part of the conversation.
Boy G (quietly): “We went to a movie last night.”
Girls: “What was it rated?”
Boy C (whispering): “X, I think.”
I was sorry Mary Veazey was at work and missed the punch line.
Several years later, The Sterile Cuckoo aired on television. About five minutes into the movie, the phone rang. It was Mary Veazey. “What are you doing?”
“You know what I’m doing. Watching The Stirlee Cuckoo.”
Happy Birthday, Mary Veazey. We ought to take the boys to the movie again sometime.
Note 1: Our grandmother’s maiden name was Mary Veazey. For people who say, Mary What?, it’s pronounced VEE-zee. Alternatives, for those in the family, are Veazey, Merveazey, and other such diminutives. She introduces herself as Mary. I got the Mary part of our grandmother’s name but was spared the Veazey confusion. My problem comes from the Katherine I got from my great-grandmother. I’m Kathy, but I have to introduce myself as Mary to anyone holding an official, or unofficial, record. On seeing Mary Katherine, many people say, “Are you a nun?” I’m not.
Note 2: All this happened in 1974. I don’t know whether Boys C and G have even seen the real ending of The Stirlee Cuckoo. I don’t know whether they ever learned the correct title. I don’t even know whether they remember any of this at all. But if I send this post to their wives on Facebook, they will.
Note 3: President Nixon resigned later that week, but the movie is my more vivid recollection.
Note 4: Both The Great Gatsby and The Sterile Cuckoo had been out for several years before this story took place. I’m always behind in my movie-going.
In the previous post, I announced my intention to get up, go to BookPeople, write for an hour on a project of not-email and not-post (because Ramona DeFelice Long told me to), and get off the laptop by 7:00 p.m.
Here’s how the day went.
At 8:00 a.m., I discovered Ernest experiencing grave digestive problems reminiscent of previous problems caused by eating string. No matter how careful we are, he’s always able to find string.
After practicing every sneaky tactic I know to wrestle him into the carrier, I hauled him to the vet, wrote a check, hauled him home, and spent the next twenty-four hours stalking him up hill and down dale, from litterbox to litterbox, to get an accurate picture of his post-doc activity.
If there wasn’t any, I would have to take him back to the vet today for reconsideration of the diagnosis of UTI to ingestion of string.
In addition to the X-ray, the veterinarian gave him a long-lasting injection of antibiotic so we wouldn’t have to catch him and fight over pills or liquid for a week. I could have chosen to start treatment without the X-ray and see what happened but wasn’t sure I could get him back into the carrier if the antibiotic didn’t work. Some things are not worth the effort.
Because we have two cats and two litterboxes, and because I knew isolation wouldn’t be possible, at least if I valued our doors, I sat up all night watching him. He slept. All night. Didn’t go near a litterbox. I played Bookworm.
David rose at 7:00 a.m. We changed shifts. I went upstairs for four hours of sleep. David stalked.
I woke at 11:00 to the news that Ernest had performed admirably. David had kept samples. I said I didn’t need to see them.
Ernest is in fine fettle. At present he’s lying on my arm, making biscuits where I wish he were not. I will tolerate this until the first claw penetrates my clothing and punctures my flesh. He means well.
In fact, he forgave and forgot as soon as we returned from the veterinary clinic. He swished around as if I had never betrayed him, sat in my lap, pinned down my left arm while I typed, lay on the footstool, gazed at me lovingly.
I’m grateful he doesn’t hold a grudge. In the fight for proper medical attention I nearly dislocated his shoulder. I’m trying to forgive and forget that my back and my right arm will once again have to be put right by the massage therapist. The carrier alone is heavy, and with Ernest inside it gains seventeen pounds.
Concerning the writing life: I did not go to BookPeople; I did not write for an hour; I did not eat breakfast or lunch until nearly 3:00 p.m. I did not do anything except be nurse and mama to a big, hulking guy tabby cat.
But hey–I got another blog post out of it.
The craziest thing is that it’s almost the same post I wrote two or three years ago, about the day I was
determined to write write write but instead spent the day lying on the floor in William’s bedroom, trying to coax an ailing Ernest out from under the bed and to the doctor.
Now the question: Do these things happen because I’m crazy, or am I crazy because these things happen?
What is the moral? (Must be a moral.)
Change in the Davis-Waller house doesn’t seem likely, at least while Ernest and I live here. Might as well accept that and go on.
I should never never never publicize my intention of writing writing writing.
Writing writing writing equals change. See first moral, above.
And failing to follow through is embarrassing. Especially reporting the failure, as is only fair. Readers deserve to know.
When this post is safely online, I shall throw things into a bag and head south to retreat with Austin Mystery Writers. I will have a cabin and a river and some pecan trees. I will not have Internet connection or decent TV reception. Phones will work only outside.
And for the next two days, I promise to sit in a porch swing and Write. Write. Write.
If paragraphs in this post are incorrectly spaced, please pretend they’re not. Today’s format is like Ernest–not under my control. It’s just one more miracle of modern technology.
This afternoon, I shall present myself at the ophthalmologist’s office, where I will be measured, Valiumed up, awakened from a peaceful sleep on the waiting room sofa, cattle-prodded down the hall to the operating room, punctured, divested of a cataract, invested with a shiny new lens, wobbled back to the waiting room, and driven home, thence to crash on the sofa until further notice.
Isn’t that a lovely sentence? I wish the writer who told me to stop composing sentences requiring semicolons could see it. Not a semicolon in sight.
My critic said readers wouldn’t understand semicolons. I countered (mentally) that I hoped for readers who could unravel more than a simple declarative sentence, and if I couldn’t get them, I would give up writing and instead take conversational Spanish or annoy another voice teacher. But I have cut down on semicolons.
She also told me not to digress. One out of two isn’t bad.
Anyway. That was the procedure with LASIK, except for the puncture, the cataract, and the new lens. This time the doctor will use a vacuum cleaner. Doesn’t sound appetizing. The trade-off is that I won’t be disturbed by the smell of burning flesh–mine–from the laser. I’m to wear warm clothes because the operating room is cold. In the midst of this 75-degree winter, cold will be a relief. Friends have told me there will be heated blankets, but the doctor didn’t mention those, so I will take a sweater. I’ll have to take off my shoes, so I’ve also set aside a pair of socks the cats haven’t gnawed holes in.
Although by the time the Valium has taken hold, I won’t be able to read a compound-complex sentence, and I won’t care what the cats have done.
Note: A friend told me my impending surgery was announced on Facebook yesterday afternoon. I didn’t intend to announce it, and I don’t remember announcing it. Well, whatever. Since the story was already bouncing around in cyberspace, I thought I might as well make a post out of it. This evening, I might not think it so amusing.
The first screening of “Invisible Men Invade Earth” was an unqualified success.
I should say the first two screenings.
David’s video was scheduled to run at 7:00 p.m. However, due to the enthusiasm of the folks operating the projector, it began at 6:47, right after the Doc Bloc had finished.
Most of the audience had left the theater for the break, so very few saw “Invisible Men.” Just in time, however, the manager appeared and announced the mistake. And “Invisible Men” ran again at the official time.
Now about the unqualified success: The audience laughed. Those who saw it the first time returned after the break telling others, “It’s about a space ship and aliens and cats.” Then they watched and laughed again. So did newcomers.
I don’t know what David learned from the experience, but here’s what I took away from it: When making videos, cast cats in starring roles. Viewers laugh at cats, even when said cats do nothing but lie around being cats.
Viewers laughed at David’s script, too. One line in particular drew a roar. It elicited the same response during a showing for friends in our living room.
The laughter of friends is good.
But when strangers laugh, you know you’ve done something right.
And if David doesn’t know that, something is radically wrong. Because Mrs. Producer Davis has informed him of the fact at least ten times this evening alone.
I am too tired to speak of goals or progress. I will say that I got to bed by 11:00 p.m. two days in a row, and that I’m about to make that three.
I am still trying to come up with just the right way to begin Molly Chapter 5. That means, of course, I’m fighting a losing battle. It’s interesting, the things you do when you know they’re not going to work. Or perhaps you don’t. But I do.
My conclusion: I must go back to pen and paper, slow myself down, write what’s wrong, leave it there, scratch it out, whatever, but–live with it. Let it stare me in the face while I keep a-going. End up with a mass of scribbled-on paper instead of a screen blank from repeated deletions.
Someday, when I’ve broken through the need for perfection–or at least the idea that I can attain it–I’ll return to the keyboard.
Regarding exercise, I ran all over the house this afternoon trying to get out the door to an appointment. Last-minute tasks kept calling me: find keys, find socks, find purse, find sunglasses, find cash, take clothes out of dryer, put clothes into dryer, put note on door for AC technician telling him not to let cats out…
It wasn’t the last-minute things that caused me to run late, though. It was the amount of time I spent trying to put on a pair of David’s jeans.