Labor-Not-Intensive Day

 

A spontaneous Labor Day picnic, fried chicken and potato salad beside the pool, followed by carrot cake in air conditioned comfort.

We forgot to take the camera, so later David did a basic recreation and snapped some shots. I got a picture of the cake.

When I remember the elaborate family picnics of my childhood—chicken barbecued on the riverbank, baked beans, potato salad, creamed corn, fresh onions and tomatoes, iced tea, pecan pie, homemade peach ice cream, and on and on—I am ashamed that I let Walmart do the cooking.

When I think of all the labor that went into celebrating warm-weather holidays—most of it done by others while I was splashing around in the river—I’m okay with a scaled-down version.

 

 

You’re Sixty

Today would have been my mother’s ninety-eighth birthday. On last May 1, my father would have been one hundred.

When I take the time to really think about that, it’s mind-boggling. I can’t imagine them at those ages.

Mother used to tell a story about my great-aunt Lydia’s sixtieth birthday. Lydia, her mother, her two younger sisters, and two of her nieces–my mother and her youngest sister, who was generally referred to as “that cute little Betty,”*–went to dinner to celebrate.

Back home, my great-grandmother put on her nightgown and got into the big four-poster bed in Lydia’s downstairs bedroom. The other women sat around her and did what they always did when they got together–talked and laughed. No topic was off limits and everything was funny. A quiet child could learn a lot in those sessions.

That night, my great-grandmother, whom the younger ones called Grannygirl, sat propped against her pillows, old but still the quintessential sharp-witted (and sharp-tongued) Southern belle. While the others talked, she said nothing.

Finally, looking into the distance, such as it was, she uttered a single sentence: “Lydia, you’re sixty.” Her tone was contemplative, but it also carried an undertone of surprise.

In the silence that followed, Lydia said yes, she was.

A few minutes later, still gazing somewhere above her descendants’ heads, Grannygirl broke in again. “Lydia, you’re sixty.

Again, Lydia agreed she was.

Another few minutes passed and Grannygirl said it once more: “Lydia, you’re sixty.

Obviously having heard enough on that topic, Lydia responded, a bit sharply, “Well, Mother what does that make you?”

End of conversation.

I thought of that story because, like Grannygirl trying to get used to having a sixty-year-old daughter, I can’t quite get used to the idea of my parents at the century mark. At the same time, I believe, were they alive today, they would not have changed. I know, however, that to them, I would be radically different.

I wish they could have attended my wedding. I wish they could know my husband. I wish they could read this blog and my fiction. I wish they could read the pieces I’ve published. I wish they could know that, though I miss them terribly,  I’m secure and happy.

One thing I’m certain of: If my parents had been here to celebrate my birthday a few years ago, we would  have gone out to dinner, and then we would have come home and changed into more comfortable clothes. And then, while we sat in the living room talking about anything and everything, my mother would at some point have looked into the distance and said, “Kathy, you’re sixty.”

Crystal Barrow Waller and Billie Waller, 1942
Crystal Barrow Waller and Billie Waller, 1942

*

*Betty was short, had red hair and a sweet Irish face, and was drop-dead funny. She was everybody’s favorite, her nieces and nephews adored her, and she left us much too soon.

betty-and-kathy-19521
Betty and Kathy, 1952

ROW80 01.25.12 & Fentress Memories

I returned Sunday from four days in Higginsville, Missouri. I had accompanied my cousin Mary Veazey to see her brother, Wray, and his family. Wray has been in the hospital in Kansas City for the past couple of weeks. He’s doing much better now and will be released from captivity in another couple of weeks if he cooperates, says the physical therapist. He’s cooperating.

Before we left for the airport Sunday morning, Wray began reminiscing about the times he and Mary Veazey spent with my parents in Fentress, in the late 1940s, when the siblings were ten or eleven years old. Mary Veazey tossed in a few of her memories, too.

Note: Wray and Mary Veazey are my mother’s nephew and niece. They lived in Dallas. Fentress is my father’s hometown, and the aunts, uncles, and grandfather mentioned below are from his side of the family. Practically speaking, however, the two families sort of swamped together

Here’s an overview of the conversation:

Wray and Donnie mixed up some gunpowder and made firecrackers. There was a lot of gunpowder left over, so they poured it into a Coke bottle and made a fuse. It was a short fuse, and Wray almost didn’t make it to safety behind a tree when the bottle exploded. Donnie’s house was glass-studded ever after. (I suppose it still is.)

Mr. George Meadows wanted to show Wray what a possum looked like, so he caught a possum, hit it with a club, tied it up, and left it in the yard. Then Mr. George went into the house. Left alone, the possum stopped playing possum, chewed the string in two, and waddled back home, probably down in the pecan bottom on the river.

Wray was not allowed to go near the parrot that lived downstairs in Mrs. Bertie Smith’s house, where my parents had an apartment, because the parrot was mean. (Note: My mother went near the parrot and it caught the flesh between her thumb and index finger and clamped down and wouldn’t let go. Mother was pregnant at the time. She said she thought she would deliver before the bird finally released her.)

Mrs. Bertie’s house was right on the river. When my parents moved to a house down the street, Wray and Mary Veazey took a shortcut to the river by walking through the front door of Mr. George and Miss Minnie Meadows’ house and then out the back door. Mary Veazey said they were polite and always said Hello when they passed through. But they never bothered to knock.

They played among the cotton bales on the gin yard and, unbeknownst to anyone else, borrowed cotton from some of the bales to use in various other pursuits.

They found a mangy dog at the river bridge and coaxed it to come with them, then told my mother it had followed them home. The dog was foaming at the mouth. Moments later, it had some kind of fit. Mother hustled Wray and Mary Veazey into the house and called for my father, who ambled around from wherever he’d been and paused to size up the situation. The pause went on too long for Mother, who said, “Don’t just stand there with your teeth in your mouth. Do something.” (Note: Those encouraging words are still alive and well among certain members of the family.)

My grandfather took Wray trotline fishing once and they caught 149 pounds of catfish. A fish fry ensued. Wray described for his daughter how a catfish is prepared for the skillet. I won’t describe the process here, but I’ll add that I, too, used to help my grandfather skin catfish. (I was a cold-blooded little thing.) Wray could clean a fish in under a minute. I took a lot longer.

My Uncle Donald taught Wray to drive his 1947 Chevy pickup. When Donald was taking Aunt Ethel’s 1951 Buick roadster to Martindale, about seven miles north on Highway 80, for inspection, he told Wray to follow in the pickup. Because of a miscommunication, they were separated, and Wray had no one to follow. On the way, he discovered the pickup would go 80 miles per hour over the washboard road. By the time he arrived in Martindale, so many things had fallen off the pickup that it didn’t pass inspection. (Note: I later learned to drive in the same pickup, but if you think Donald let me out of his sight when I was behind the wheel, you have another think coming.)

One memory which wasn’t mentioned Sunday, but which I remember from before, took place several years later, after I had finally made an appearance: Mother looked out the kitchen window and saw Wray drag racing down the street with me in my stroller. She hollered at him to stop that before he killed me. He said I was having fun. I’m sure I was.

I always had fun when my cousins visited. They were considerably older than I and so were extremely interesting, and they were nice enough to pay attention to me and to behave as if they didn’t mind the fourteen-year age difference. They’re still nice to me. I appreciate that more than I can say.

I also appreciate their sharing memories of a time when Fentress was a child’s paradise. Not many remember those days, and it’s important we talk—and write—about them to keep them alive as long as possible.

***

Another note: Lest it be thought I have Fentress memories similar to those detailed above, I’ll clarify: I don’t. I never made gun powder, blew up Coke bottles, dismantled cotton bales, urged mad dogs to follow me home, invaded unsuspecting neighbors’ houses, or went roaring up Highway 80 in any make or model of pickup. And no one ever caught a possum for me. I was an obedient, unimaginative child, and I led a quiet, dull life of no adventure whatsoever.

And Veazey is my grandmother’s maiden name. In case anyone is wondering. Most people do.

***

ROW80 report: My reports for the past few weeks disappeared into a cloud of juniper pollen, but there wasn’t much to report anyway. While I was in MO, however, I began a story board, made notes, worked on organization. The next step: Take my list of scenes, pick one, and write it.


Day 33: Thinking

Last August I wrote about one of my muses in My Cousin Ruth’s Statuesque Leg.

Yesterday afternoon, Ruth slipped into a coma. While we’re waiting for her to wake up, I think about bunk beds and horses and camping; and sledding down an icy hill one Christmas in Independence, Missouri, and running into a parked car; and discovering burritos at Taco Bell in Huntington Beach, California; and sitting outside on her deck one night in Bollingbrook, Illinois, and singing so loudly a neighbor came to see what was wrong; and laughing hysterically at Garrison Keillor’s rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while her adult children looked on in dismay; and singing the first two lines of “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” so she would be stuck on it the rest of the day; and handing her a note that said, “Fourscore…,” just before we marched down the aisle at my wedding because I knew she would remember Paul Ford in “The Music Man” and therefore would laugh through the ceremony; and watching a video of “Chicken Run” together and knowing exactly which lines would make her laugh.