Maybe I Will Be Home Before Long

A letter my dad wrote to my cousins Wray, Mary Veazey, and Lynn Worden in Dallas while he was stationed in Europe during World War II. He’d been away from home since November 1942.

 

Belgium
9 May 1945

Dear Wray, Veazey, and Lynn,

Well, I don’t believe I know any thing to write you children about today. I think of you all the time. Maybe I will be home to see you before long.

Say, Crystal sent me some pictures of you the other day. You had grown so much that I hardly knew you. Why you are nearly as big as Betty. How about sending me some more pictures sometime.

Say you take this five dollars and make your mother or Crystal buy you three children something. I guess your mother will take you, won’t she?

Well I guess that’s about all I know. It’s about time to go to bed.

Be sure you phone Crystal that you got a letter from me and that I am feeling fine. Tell her that I still love her.

Lots of love, Uncle Billie

***

The last six months or so of World War II, my father was an ambulatory patient in Paris. He’d gone deaf from bomb concussion. For as long as possible, he hid the disability from his superiors. His fellow soldiers, however, amused themselves by running for foxholes, then laughing when Daddy jumped in. One day, Major Yarborough, for whom he drove, saw them. He took Daddy out of combat and sent him from Germany to a hospital in Paris. What happened to the others for tricking him into thinking bombs were falling, I don’t know, but I understand it wasn’t pretty.

I presume he was in Belgium on the way to Paris. He was slated to leave for the States asap but didn’t get to Dallas, where Mother was living, until October 23, 1945, the day before their third wedding anniversary.

My father was supposed to be released from service in San Antonio, so my mother had gone there, where she stayed with her aunt, uncle, and grandmother, and made cake after cake. When she got word Daddy would be coming to Dallas instead, she cried. Sam, her uncle, patted her head and told her to pack her suitcase and he would take her to the bus station.

The last time my dad had been home, the family had been living in San Antonio, where my mother and grandmother worked in Army Civil Service. When the Army moved to Dallas, they moved, too. So my father knew only the address. My grandmother and her younger daughters, Barbara and Betty, lived in the main house. My mom lived in a little  house in the back yard.

On the way through my grandmother’s house, my dad handed her his hearing aids and sad, “Don’t let Crystal know about these.” My grandmother, of course, told my mother as soon as possible.

After several days of shouting, Mother mentioned the hearing aids and said she thought he ought to wear them. He was embarrassed, and remained so for several years. One ear was so far gone he didn’t bother with the aid. He finally made peace with the other one and told small children who asked that it was his telephone.  When he took it off at night, he was sensitive to vibration but otherwise was gone. To make him hear her, Mother had to put her mouth next to his “good” ear and shout. Twenty-plus years later, a surgery to treat his kind of hearing loss was being taught by the doctor who developed it at the VA hospital in Houston. My dad, considered a good candidate, had the surgery, and his conversational hearing was restored. He said the only negative was that for a time the chirping of birds nearly drove him crazy.

When my cousins heard Uncle Billie was home, they declared a school holiday and hit my grandmother’s doorstep. Mary Veazey was seven and Wray was six. I don’t know whether they remembered him or had heard enough to think they did. I’ll add that they wrote to him, too, even though in the early years, Wray’s letters were scribbled. Lynn, the youngest, was born after he shipped out for the East Coast.

The remark about their being nearly as big as Betty was a joke of sorts. She was my mother’s youngest sister, only eight years older than Mary Veazey, and as an adult was five feet tall. It didn’t take long for any of her nieces and nephews to grow as tall as Betty. Even I got there.

***

The photos of my cousins were taken at Christmas in 1957, twelve years after they received the letter

***

 

Packing for our recent move, I came across the cigar holder a Belgian farmer gave my father when he passed through after the Normandy Invasion. It’s a valued keepsake.

 

 

 

 

 

***

Thanks to my cousin Denise Worden Allegri for retrieving this letter from her father’s files and sharing it with her aunt Mary Veazey, who shared it with me.

Letter Home from College

December 6 of my freshman year, possibly to announce I would fail all my final exams and all my courses. I thought it best that the parents be prepared.

By the end of the second semester, my mother had stopped believing me.

Mass communication is easy when your uncle is the postmaster. See upper left corner.

Later, maybe when Uncle Joe bought new mailboxes, our box number changed from 46 to 44. At some point, our phone number changed from 2622 to 2384.

I can’t remember my current cell phone number, but I do remember how to call home in 1970. I remember some of the answers on that biology final, too.

We’re moving again, so I’m finding stuff I ought to throw away but can’t.

Father’s Day 2021: He Made Us Laugh

My father, Bill (Billie) Waller, May 1, 1915 – September 8, 1983

Billie Waller, ca. 1921

I remember, in no particular order–

He loved horses. When he was in the saddle, they knew who was in charge. He didn’t have to force them.

He loved driving—down backroads to see how much it had rained, or just for the pleasure of driving. He said my horse Scarlett “rode like a Cadillac,” his highest praise. He appreciated a smooth ride. Scarlett was the only Cadillac he owned.

When children started school at seven, he started at five. His mother had just died, and sending him to school with the two older brothers was easier than keeping him at home with the two younger. He had to repeat first grade.

He quit school before his senior year to farm full-time. His father didn’t think graduating was important. No one else could have convinced him to finish—except maybe one of his mother’s sisters, if she’d thought about trying.

One of his high school teachers told me, “Your daddy was just terrible. He said the funniest things. I was only couple of years older, and he was so funny, I never could get mad at him.” It was genetic. He got it from his mother’s family.

Early 1940s

He created ridiculous fictions my mother then repeated all over town. (“Bill Waller, I am never going to believe another thing you say.” She always believed it.) He learned the art from two his of his maternal uncles.

My parents, Crystal Barrow Waller & Billie Waller, October 1942.

He always gave me five-dollar bills to go to movies that cost fifty cents, including popcorn and Coke, and told me to keep the change. (I didn’t.)

He believed dogs and cats belonged outside but when the Siamese draped herself across his feet in bed at night, he let her lie. The Collie didn’t let him or his pickup out of her sight. He made sure she was in the truck before he left in it.

At home with Nicole, the Siamese, an uninvited but kindly tolerated guest, late 1960s; and with Crystal and Kathy, ca. 1974.

When I called home to say I’d locked the keys (and the spare keys) in the car, he rescued me, no matter what the time or how long the drive, without a word said. Every time.

He pointed out spelling errors on signage. The most memorable was tresspassing, on a sign commissioned by the local water company.

He said he spent half of his life waiting for me to find my shoes.

He told me to keep plenty of money in my purse and the gas tank full, but when I said shouldn’t we fill up before leaving Seguin, he said we’d wait till we got home. We ran out of gas on the country road two miles short of our destination, with only maize fields and a river between us and fuel. He walked; my dress shoes and I waited in the car.

He loved being outside and doing manual labor—cutting brush, stretching barbed wire, plowing and planting, watching the soil turn, working cattle. After a day of doing manual labor for a salary.

He made stunning chocolate and lemon meringue pies.

He liked sardines but said they should be eaten on the riverbank with a can of pork-and-beans.

In uniform, early 1940s
Pvt. Bill Waller, Scotland, ca. 1943-44 (U.S. Army, not British)

He sent me to college, including three years in a dorm, financing it by periodically selling one of Opal’s offspring. Opal was a White-faced Hereford a neighbor had given me when I was eleven after her mother rejected her at birth.

SWTSU graduation, August 1973. Bill, Kathy, Joe (“Bub”) Dauchy, Joe Waller,
Crystal, Mary Veazey Worden, Aunt Bettie Waller, Jim King.

When his brother called from up the street to say my grandfather, who lived next door, had set fire to a pile of brush in the small pasture next to his house, and it was getting dark and the wind was getting up, and somebody ought to do something, but he had to live next door to him . . . he drove two blocks, dragged a water hose through the yard, and said, “I’m putting out that fire before you burn up the whole town.” He was the only one of five sons who could do that and not get in trouble. He was the only one who would risk getting in trouble. (Trouble being a brief parental cold shoulder.)

He read the newspaper starting at the back. He read every word of local “county” papers, right down to the phone numbers in the want-ads. He read magazines. No books. Until he retired, when he picked up my copy of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and plowed through it. So I started giving him books.

He came home from World War II deaf from bomb concussion. Because his hearing aid didn’t filter out ambient noise, and he was embarrassed to have to ask people to repeat what they’d said, he left church dinners, large family gatherings, and other social events, early, often just taking off and walking home by himself. He quit a job that depended on his using the telephone, because he thought he might get information communicated to him—serial numbers of airplane parts—wrong, and cause a tragedy. When he took off his hearing aid at night, he was gone.

When I was eleven, his hearing aid broke. He sat through the public school week evening program in the school auditorium and heard absolutely nothing.

After twenty years of deafness, he had surgery to restore conversational hearing and his original personality surfaced. He enjoyed mixing with people. He engaged in long telephone conversations with friends. He got a kick out of Archie Bunker.

He watched The Muppet Show every Saturday evening. Every time Kermit the Frog flung his arms around and said, “Ya-a-a-a-a-a-ay,” he shook with silent laughter.

He stood in the churchyard after services checking the dates on inspection stickers on windshields, just killing time. Occasionally he found one that had expired.

He was good to old ladies. He got their cats out of trees He charged Miss Blanche’s ancient car’s ancient battery every six months or so (because she drove only every six months or so). She called every Halloween and said, “Tell Bill to get up her and get some popcorn balls before the kids get them all.”

He worked best alone, I think because, although he could do a multitude of things, he figured out how to do them as we went along. He passed that gene along to me.

He was a gregarious loner.

He was solid and dependable.

He made us laugh.

He died suddenly and unexpectedly and too young.

Four brothers and a cousin: Joe Waller, Rob Waller, Graham Waller, Bill Waller, Donald Waller, ca. 1980.

Mothers’ Day: All Your Lovely Word Are Spoken

Elegy

Let them bury your big eyes
In the secret earth securely,
Your thin fingers, and your fair,
Soft, indefinite-colored hair,—
All of these in some way, surely,
From the secret earth shall rise;
Not for these I sit and stare,
Broken and bereft completely;
Your young flesh that sat so neatly
On your little bones will sweetly
Blossom in the air.

Crystal Barrow Waller, 1942

But your voice,—never the rushing
Of a river underground,
Not the rising of the wind
In the trees before the rain,
Not the woodcock’s watery call,
Not the note the white-throat utters,
Not the feet of children pushing
Yellow leaves along the gutters
In the blue and bitter fall,
Shall content my musing mind
For the beauty of that sound
That in no new way at all
Ever will be heard again.

Sweetly through the sappy stalk
Of the vigorous weed,
Holding all it held before,
Cherished by the faithful sun,
On and on eternally
Shall your altered fluid run,
Bud and bloom and go to seed;
But your singing days are done;
But the music of your talk
Never shall the chemistry
Of the secret earth restore.
All your lovely words are spoken.
Once the ivory box is broken,
Beats the golden bird no more. 

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

Some Wallers

 

 

Joe Waller, Rob Waller, Graham Waller, Bill Waller, Donald Waller, ca. 1980.

Bill, fourth from the left, is my father. Joe, Graham, and Donald are my uncles. Collectively, they were known as “the Waller boys.” There were a number of other Waller boys in town, but these four, along with their brother Maurice, who died in 1952, were the.

Rob is their first cousin.

The snapshot was taken at the Fentress United Methodist Church homecoming, ca. 1980. That was the last time they were all together.

Vida Woodward Waller (my grandmother) & Jessie Waller, ca. 1910

 

Frank Waller (Dad), ca. 1952

Billie Waller, ca. 1920

Billie Waller, ca. 1943, while stationed in Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regarding Sheetrock, or Drywall: Back When

 

A slow drip leading to a leaking pipe leading to several brittle pipes and serious drips, and finally to a plumber, have brought contractors in to cover holes left in the drywall of the laundry room, and appreciation for a landlord who responds to problems without delay.

With strangers in the house, William is lurking behind the cedar chest. Ernest is folded up on the bottom shelf of an empty bookcase still hidden by boxes and facing the patio window. They don’t enjoy the process. I do.

I grew up calling drywall sheetrock. Well into adulthood when drywall cropped up, I asked what had happened to sheetrock and learned that it’s properly Sheetrock. More properly it’s Sheetrock™, a trade name that’s become a generic term like Kleenex (Kleenex™).

Frank Waller, aka Dad, dressed for painting me dressed for watching, ca. 1953.

I learned about Sheetrock in early childhood because my grandfather, sometimes assisted by my father, did remodeling and repair around town. Once or twice I got to watch.

Dad was meticulous. Unlike some I’ve seen, seams he taped and floated disappeared, the drywall mud flush with the Sheetrock. Seams in my parents’ living room remained invisible for a good fifty years.

When he painted, the brush moved slowly from side to side, no slopping of paint onto floors, windows, or doorknobs. Stray paint was immediately cleaned up.

During my family’s brief sojourn in Del Rio, we lived across the street from a young man who, post-high school, had briefly lived on the farm with Dad after his parents moved away from Fentress. While visiting, Dad found Dick painting the walls of his kitchen but getting paint on the ceiling, where it didn’t belong. Dad took the brush out of his hand and finished the job himself.*

(My father was almost as particular. He and my mother stopped in to see neighbors who were hanging wallpaper. My dad had to leave because he said they weren’t using enough paste, and the paper was going to fall off almost before they got it up. He couldn’t watch.)**

When Dad was painting Dr. Luckett’s clinic, I dropped by and insisted on helping. He tolerated more from his nine-year-old granddaughter than from adults, and handed me a brush. He knew I wouldn’t last. After about twenty minutes, I stopped to play with a ball of putty, (unsuccessfully) keep my puppy, who had followed me to town, from getting into the paint, and generally get in the way. Not long after that, I went home to air conditioning. My parents had recently elected to move back home from dry Del Rio, and the South-Central Texas humidity was killing me.****

Me with San Marcos River catfish caught by Frank Waller (still aka Dad).

Dad was famous for taking off in the middle of a job to go trotline fishing. Family shook their heads and said, “Well, that’s just Dad.” If people complained, they did it out of our hearing. Many were relatives—extended family lived all over town—and they expected him to disappear for a while.

Or he might have shared his fish. He caught enough to spread some around.

Once in early spring, he did some work for a sister- and brother-in-law who had a peach orchard beside their house. His helper said, “Mr. Frank, I sure wish we were going to be here when those peaches get ripe.” Dad said, “Don’t worry. We will be.”

For years, I thought leaving like that was a character flaw. When I heard that other contractors sometimes take time off in the mid-project, I thought it was a tall tale. People who worked for me finished in a timely fashion. Then a fellow who was repainting the door of a previous apartment—the blazing west sun hit it in summer, so it required paint that wouldn’t peel—told me he did a lot of painting, but he took off and went fishing whenever he wanted, and he didn’t ever apologize for it either. Business as usual, I guess.

The Sheetrock people have gone. They left no sign they’d been here. Dad would be pleased.

###

*My grandfather had other crotchets, too. My mother claimed that when he was driving down the road and saw a sunflower, he would stop and pull it up. (Farmer.) He let most things go much further than other folks would, but certain things he could not abide.

**As to my father’s other requirements: After retiring, he worked for some farmers he was acquainted with, hauling maize from the field to wherever it went.*** He enjoyed driving, and he liked the men, but after a week or so he resigned. He said they let Johnson grass grow up at the edges of their fields. (Farmer.) He wasn’t obsessive about anything else, but his fields had to be clean, and his fences tight, with sturdy cedar posts and six strands of barbed wire, so his cows couldn’t escape, except for big, fat, sleek Hereford Opal, who lay down and rolled under. Impossible, we thought, but he finally caught her in the act.

***Once upon a time, I knew where maize went, maybe. But I wasn’t a farm girl, and I was busy reading in the air conditioning and didn’t pay attention. I wish had, because now when I set a story in a rural area, I have to look things up.

****After a zillion years, the humidity is still killing me.

Ragdoll Cat (Temporarily)

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. — Herman Melville

When it’s November, I give thanks summer is over and 100-degree weather temporarily behind us.

This November I gave thanks for the veterinarian.

While was in Dallas at a writing conference, David noticed symptoms of diabetes and took Ernest in for confirmation and treatment. I asked how he got the cat into the carrier. “With great difficulty,” he said.

After I returned home, we took him back to the doctor for gastric problems related to his new dietary regimen. The next day, he seemed to be in worse shape, so we took him back. Because he doesn’t like injections any more than he likes the carrier, we hadn’t been able to give him insulin, so that afternoon, before releasing him, the vet gave him a shot.

That night about midnight, in the dark, I stepped on a furry mass beside the bed and turned on the light. Guess who. Ernest. That was a surprise, since he usually sleeps under the bed. When I picked him up, another miracle occurred—he tolerated it. He doesn’t like to be picked up and held either. He  felt like a rag doll. David rubbed honey on his gums, and we headed for the animal ER/hospital (where he went several years ago after eating thread).

By the time we arrived, his blood sugar was 25, so he stayed for an IV and monitoring. At dawn–6:00 a.m., but it felt like dawn—we took him back to our vet for further monitoring. At 5:00 p.m, on the vet’s advice, we delivered him to the hospital for 24 to 36 hours of monitoring. The vet who had given him the insulin was amazed his glucose plummeted like that. The next afternoon, we picked him up.

Over the next two days, I functioned as a lap.

He’s doing well now. We hoped his diabetes could be controlled by diet, but he’s taking injections from David as if they’re no big deal. We watch him for hypoglycemia.

I don’t know whether I could inject him. He and David have always been buds. David is calm, so in David’s sphere, Ernest is calm. I energize him, so he marches around on me and sits on the arm of the chair and pulls on my sleeve. To give him his due, he’s learned to “liiiiiieeeeeeee dowwwwwwwwwwwn” after hearing me plead not too many times. But he has no intention of learning, “Stop pulling on my sleeve.”

On the topic of energy, since retiring, I’ve realized I energized my students, too, more’s the pity. They didn’t need energizing.

Anyway, November, to me, will always be The Month of the Hypoglycemic Cat.

And on a less alarming note, the The Month It Is Cooler, and in 2019, Damp and Drizzly, and Sometimes Even Rainy, Which is Nice.

*

I shouldn’t say this, lest it embarrass him, but in the hospital, Ernest’s legs were shaved so veins could be accessed, and now he looks like a 1950s lady wearing a fur coat with three-quarter sleeves and gauntlet gloves.

Note the elegant tilt of the head.

 

 

The Great Throwing-Away: Bob’s Grocery

I just packed the egg separator from Bob’s Grocery in Fentress, Texas, ca. 1956.

Why?

Because it’s from Bob’s Grocery in Fentress, Texas, ca. 1956.

Bob–really Rob Waller–was my father’s first cousin. They grew up on neighboring farms on the Guadalupe County side of the San Marcos River.

Nell, Rob’s wife and partner in the grocery store, was my second mama. She and I were the sole and exclusive members of a Mutual Admiration Society.

Rob and Nell’s three daughters, teenagers when I came along, were my idols.

There are a lot of stories I could tell, but the movers will be here any minute, so I have to stop.

But the point is, no matter how broken and cracked and shabby that egg separator is, you just don’t go throwing it away.

The Great Throwing-Away: Quilts

Today’s Great Throwing-Away was more of a Great Packing-Away, but I’m stopping for a brief post. Anything to take me away from the task at hand.

Like my mother’s cookbook and her high school diploma, three quilts will stay with me.

The first is a baby blanket my mother’s mother, Mary Veazey Barrow, made for me. It’s blue, the safe color, since at the time no self-respecting boy would have been seen curled up under a pink blanket. Today there are no boy or girl colors, but I suspect blue is still the safe one.

The second is a quilt my great-grandmother, Nettie Eastwood Woodward (“Granny”) made for my dad. I don’t know exactly how old it is, but Granny died in 1940, so I assume it was made in the ’20s or ’30s–close to a hundred years old, anyway. I spent hours under that quilt during my sinus infection years and occupied myself by contemplating the one-inch squares of reds and blues and yellows and the tiny stitches binding them together. Today I look at it and think of the work that went into just piecing the top.

 

My grandfather Waller provided fabric for the third quilt. He chain-smoked Bull Durham roll-your-own cigarettes. After my grandmother died, when he was thirty-five, he lived on his farm but ate many of his meals at his mother’s house in town, and, consequently, did a lot of smoking there, too.

When he emptied a tobacco sack, he set it on the radio table in the living room. His older sister, Ethel, who lived there, got tired of picking up the sacks and decided to see how long he would let them stack up before he moved them. I gather he let them stack up as long as she waited to see how long he would let them stack up . . . etc.

Finally, she collected them, cut them open, washed them, and pieced two quilt backs, one for each of my grandfather’s youngest sons. But she never got around to making the quilts. When I was in my twenties, my uncle Donald’s wife and mother-in-law matched one of the backs with a sheet and made a quilt for me.

 

The Great Throwing-Away: Tomato Soup Cake

The Great Throwing-Away continues to unearth items I refuse to throw away.

Today it’s The Household Searchlight Recipe Book my mother acquired, according to the inside cover, in 1940.

It’s had a hard life. I referred to page 77 repeatedly during my Divinity Phase, when I was eleven. Every rainy weekend—and there were more of them back them—I made divinity. It never set. I knew it wouldn’t, and I didn’t care. I didn’t like divinity all that much, but I enjoyed using the candy thermometer. The divinity always turned out sticky and had to be eaten with a spoon, but it was perfectly good.

Anyway, the highlight of the cookbook appears in the back, written in pencil, under “Additional Recipes”: Tomato Soup Spice Cake.

I grew up hearing the Legend of the Tomato Soup Cake: “Ted [my mother’s uncle Ted Lynn] was always saying, ‘Crys, when are you going to make me a tomato soup cake?’ That was his favorite.” For some reason, maybe because my father was more of a chocolate- and lemon meringue pie addict, I never got a glimpse of the cake. I don’t think I wanted to. I was addicted to Campbell’s tomato soup (cream of, made with milk and mushy with saltine crackers) but cake and tomato soup sounded incompatible (like bleh). I was in my twenties when I finally insisted on seeing what Ted was so crazy about.

Well, Ted was right. For anyone who likes spice cake, this is the one. For anyone who doesn’t like spice cake, this could be a game changer. The layers are velvety. The icing is a candy in itself.

My mother got the recipe from—if I remember correctly—the wife of the Methodist minister in Martindale, Texas, in the late 1930s. Instructions were dictated and lack detail. I’ve inserted a few extra steps in brackets. Some I remember doing myself. My mom might have directed the operation the first time I baked it, or she might have written out a fuller version for me.

And before anyone asks, I have no idea how to define a scant teaspoon.

Tomato Soup Spice Cake

Layers

2 cups tomato soup [2 cups canned soup, not the entire two cans]
1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs – optional
1 handful raisins
2 scant tsp. soda

[A wisp of memory said to dredge raisins in flour before mixing with other ingredients. Specifically, I remember saying, “What does, ‘Dredge raisins mean?'” BUT, on second thought, I believe dredged raisins went into my grandmother’s applesauce cake, not into the tomato soup cake. I hate to make this difficult, but I haven’t baked either since the 1980s.*]

Cream butter and sugar, add 2 scant teaspoons soda to soup and add to sugar and butter mixture.

Sift together:

4 scant cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cloves
3 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. all spice
1/2 tsp. mace (or nutmeg)

[Add sifted dry ingredients to wet ingredients and blend.]

Add 3 tsp. vanilla to mixture.

Makes 2 large or 3 medium layers. [For best results, make 3 layers. See “Further instructions from Kathy,” below.]

[Pour into cake pans. Bake. Possibly at 350 degrees.]

Icing

This:

1 Phila. cream cheese
? powdered sugar
? vanilla

[The corner of the page is missing, so I don’t know how much powdered sugar and vanilla are called for. Check online, act on experience, or guess. But if the online recipe calls for butter, don’t add it.]

or [and!]

This:

1 C milk
2 C sugar
1 C dates [Pitted dates. And a warning: 1 cup doesn’t sound like enough. In fact, I’m not sure this makes enough icing to cover three layers. If you increase the recipe and have some left over, that will be all right, because the extra can be eaten as candy.]

Boil to soft ball and add dates before taking off.

Add 1 tablespoon butter afterward.

[Another warning: After butter is added, the icing may need to be beaten a bit. I think it does. Fudge and pecan pralines do.]

 

Further instructions from Kathy:

Now. This is what the all the fuss was about.

Make 3 layers.

Make the second “This” icing with milk, sugar, and dates. Ice the tops of layers.

Make the first “This” icing with cream cheese. Ice the sides of the cake.

My experience: Do not try to slice in wedges. The candy icing hardens/sets and can make slicing difficult.

Instead, bisect the cake—a bread knife and a light touch can help—and then make cuts perpendicular to the cross cut. (The icing might have hardened because I cooked it too long. But I think it’s supposed to set that way. Like divinity does when the humidity is low.)

I’ve seen similar recipes online, but none looks like it would match this beast. Combine three layers of light, velvety cake with two kinds of icing, and the end product is simply devastating.

The Tomato Soup Cake recipe is included in a cookbook published by the Fentress Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary (or maybe it was the church?) in the 1970s or ’80s. I don’t have my copy any more, so I can’t verify, but one of the ingredients may have been recorded incorrectly. I seem to remember—lots of my memories are wispy these days—using it and coming out with an unexpected result.

According to WorldCat, The Household Searchlight Recipe Book is housed in the collections of the Turpin Library (Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX), the Texas Woman’s University Library (Denton, TX), the Marfa Public Library (Marfa, TX), the Alcorn State University Library (Lorman, MS), the Perry Memorial Library (Perryton, TX), and the Conway Springs City Library (Conway Springs, KS).

It receives excellent reviews on Goodreads. Various editions are available on Amazon.

***

*I haven’t baked much of anything since the 1980s.

Score: Fifteen – Love

In less than an hour, David and I will have been married fifteen years and nine hours. Or slightly less; the wedding began at 2:00 p.m., but with all the singing and marching and reading and plighting, it was probably 2:30 before the minister told us we could leave. To me, it seems like we’ve been married only a few months. I don’t how it seems to to David, and I’m not going to ask.

Image may contain: 2 peopleAnyway, we’re celebrating with a night at the Omni Hotel at Barton Creek, where we’re conferring, consorting, and otherwise hob-nobbing with our brother and sister wizards. Or as David would put it,  we’re mixing with the quality.

I spent the morning and part of the afternoon at the Mokara Spa, getting nails, hair, and face done. Fifteen years ago it wouldn’t have taken that long, but things happen.

David took before and after pictures. I don’t know whether After will look much different from Before, but in real life, I walked out of that place looking a lot better than I did when I went in. I had color in my face. Or, more accurately, on it.

When I was thirteen, my mother handed me a lipstick and said, “Use it. You’re very pale.” She was the only mom in Creation who wished her daughter would use more make-up. I didn’t know how bad it was until I was in my forties, when I saw a picture of myself sitting in the church choir. Everyone else looked normal. I looked several shades past anemic.

It’s a Waller thing. My grandfather was tanned by the sun, but when he rolled up his khakis to wade into the river (on some mission related to his boat or his trotlines) his legs were unimaginably white. After meeting one of my cousins, David delicately and in a voice filled with concern, asked me if she had some kind of illness or condition. No, I said, that’s what’s known as alabaster skin. Unfortunately, I missed the alabaster, but I got the pallor. Until I get embarrassed, at which time I turn beet red.

A dermatologist once said to me, “Well, you have blonde skin, you know.” His tone was downright accusatory. I got my father’s black hair, which comes from the other side of his family. I know they don’t go together, but it’s not my fault. I have no control over my DNA.

Anyway, the Mokara make-up lady has me looking downright alive. She also did a pretty good haircut. I showed her a ten-year-old picture and she got about as close as anyone could get.

What, you might ask, did David–the other half of this anniversary thing–do while I was being gussied up? What he does every day. He sat with his Chromebook and worked on Alien Resort and whatever else he works on. I never know what he’s doing until he tells me a newspaper has picked up his cartoon or that a film festival is going to screen one of his videos.

Which brings this post to a turn I didn’t expect it to take: while I was writing this, David forwarded me an email from Central Arts of Hurst Short Film Series – Round Three saying that his “Invisible Men Invade Earth” will be screened this Saturday, June 29. It will be

“competing against “Don’t Die” and, based on audience reaction and input, a winner will be crowned at the conclusion of the evening. The winning film will then be invited back at the end of the screening series to compete in a “Battle Royale” to see which film is crowned “King” (or “Queen” or “Non-gender-specific Monarch,” take your pick)! SO, in the interest of giving your film the best chance to win, we very much encourage you to invite EVERYONE you know to this event!”

“Invisible Men” has garnered positive responses (“sweet and innocent”; “a film you can tell he made just because he wanted to”) at all showings, and it stars the cats (last-minute unscripted but welcome appearance), so I can, with confidence, pronounce it the best film of the year, bar none.

Nevertheless, if you’re in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford-Dallas-Fort Worth-Oklahoma area this Saturday evening, feel free to drop in (although they say to get a ticket early because they often turn people away at the door). And if you come, vote for David’s film. Because the other people in attendance might have poor taste and vote wrong.

We don’t know when the Monarch will be named. The film festival is a monthly event. The first in the series was in December 2018, so we assume the competition will be held toward the end of this year. We’ll let you know, since we are encouraged to invite EVERYONE we know. David appreciates all compliments, admiration, adulation, and adoration that come his way, and I’m sure he’d be okay with his film’s being crowned. The ultimate designation, though, is weird. That’s what an Austin reviewer called it. High praise. It’s an Austin thing.

So that’s the story of our anniversary celebration. The only things omitted are 1) the steak; half of mine is in the refrigerator, none of his resides there; and 2) the tantrum I had when, after both David and I spent a half-hour searching for the photographs I had transferred from my camera to the Google Drive, and after David said, How do you stand the mouse opening and closing tabs when you’re not looking and I said, I cuss under my breath, and he figured out how to fix it, almost—as I said, after all that, I discovered about four hundred words had disappeared from this post and the deletion couldn’t be undone and all revisions were gone gone gone.

It wasn’t much of a tantrum, because I knew I should have saved before running off after errant photos, but then, WordPress shouldn’t have autosaved an incomplete document.

And the mouse, which I’m certain is to blame, should have minded its own business.

If you’ve gotten this far without wishing the missing four hundred words had never been reconstituted, bless your heart. Now I have to go wash off all this makeup and fade into the background.

 

***

Wedding photo by Atelier Wong

 

S Is for a Sin & a Shame: #atozchallenge

 

LONG before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.

~ Eudora Welty, “Listening in the Dark

 

In the olden days, my family spent most holidays in my hometown with my father’s side of the family. Dinner rotated year to year from my house to Aunt Laura and Uncle Joe’s to Great-aunt Ethel’s. The woman hosting cooked turkey and dressing; the others brought side dishes.

Some of the same sides appeared year after year: Great-aunt Bettie’s potato salad, Great-aunt Aunt Jessie’s something-or-other salad, my mother’s pecan pie. Aunt Bettie put sugar in her potato salad–the older generation of Wallers sugared everything–and it was delicious.

Mother’s pecan pie was delicious, too; every year I ate  pumpkin pie, then regretted it. The pumpkin was good, but, as Garrison Keillor pointed out, the best pumpkin pie you ever ate isn’t that much better than the worst pumpkin pie you ever ate.

Aunt Jessie’s salad was a delicious enigma. Nobody knew what was in it then, and nobody knows what was in it now. Finely chopped pecans were recognizable. Lime Jello was highly probable. It wasn’t Jello-smooth, it didn’t taste like Jello, and it didn’t jiggle. As to the third major ingredient, I’m guessing cream cheese.

She brought it to every communal dinner, and  the other women wondered aloud what was in it. If anyone asked, she didn’t get an answer. Aunt Jessie certainly didn’t volunteer the information. She was known for not telling anything, most of all her age. After Uncle Curt died, she put up a double tombstone with her birth date engraved on it. Everybody in the family made a point of driving out to look at the miracle.

After dinner, we sat in the living room and the men–my father and his brothers–told stories, some about their childhood, others about local current events. As the only child there, I wasn’t outside playing with other children; I was sitting on the floor, listening.

Like Aunt Jessie’s salad, the same stories were served every year. Most of them were funny, and we laughed as hard each year as we had the last. Fentress was a singular place. It was like Charles Dickens created enough characters, most of them elderly, for an entire book and then set them down in a little town in Central Texas. Their quirks, their mannerisms, their speech, their opinions, their actions marked them as individuals.

Mr. John Roberts steered his old green Chevy well to the right before turning left, just as if he were still driving a horse-and buggy. Every time his brother, Mr. Perry, left the post office, he backed his old gray pickup at least a hundred yards before turning around to head for home (long-time residents knew not to not park behind him). My grandfather rolled Bull Durham cigarettes with one hand, drove on the left side of the road, and glided right past every stop sign he saw (if he saw them).

The stories were about small things, but they were our history, and worth hearing again. For example:

Mr. George Meadows used to wake my father up in the middle of the night because old Fritz was down in the river bottom baying at a treed raccoon and disturbing everyone’s sleep, and he wasn’t going to stop till my dad took his shotgun down there and took care of the coon.

When Great-uncle Carl was agitated, he fidgeted with the waist of his trousers. Once, back in the 1920s, a group of teenage boys, including my father’s oldest brother, Joe, went to Seguin, about twenty miles away, imbibed some alcohol, and landed in jail. The next morning, word got back to their families, and the fathers gathered downtown in the Waller store, to discuss what they should do. “Leave them there,” said Uncle Carl, “just leave them there and let them learn a lesson.”

Then someone mentioned that Carl Jr. was among the incarcerated. Uncle Carl started fidgeting with the waist of his trousers. Aunt Bettie said she thought he was going to pull his pants clear up under his armpits. He drove right over to Seguin and got Jr. out.

The best part of the story, in my estimation, is the crime that sent the boys to jail: They stole an anvil. I’ll bet in the history of the world, they were the only ones who ever stole an anvil.

The law imposed no consequences. I assume the anvil was returned to its owner and he boys apologized and that was that.

There. Those anecdotes aren’t interesting to the general public, including the readers of this post–they fall under the heading “You Had to Know the Participants,”–but I remember Uncle Carl’s fidgeting, and the image is as vivid now as it was sixty years ago. And that anvil . . .

The stories told on those holidays represent some of my happiest memories. They’re also material. I write fiction, and if you think I’m not weaving in bits and pieces, you can think again.

It would have been a sin and a shame if I’d missed out on those holiday gatherings.

*

I’m pleased to report that Uncle Joe went on to be a sober citizen, and a postmaster, and in that job he saw and spoke with most of the townspeople every day, and therefore had the opportunity to gather more stories to share at family gatherings.

**

Eudora Welty, “The Making of a Writer: Listening in the Dark.” New York Times on the Web.

***

Images of Raccoon and Anvil via Pixabay.com

 

D Is for Stinky, Ruffy, and a Dollop of Muggs*: #atozchallenge

Probably no one man should have as many dogs in his life as I have had, but there was more pleasure than distress in them for me except in the case of an Airedale named Muggs. He gave me more trouble than all the other fifty-four or -five put together, although my moment of keenest embarrassment was the time a Scotch terrier named Jeannie, who had just had six puppies in the clothes closet of a fourth floor apartment in New York, had the unexpected seventh and last at the corner of Eleventh Street and Fifth Avenue during a walk she had insisted on taking.

~ James Thurber, “The Dog That Bit People”

 

Now you would probably rather read “The Dog That Bit People” instead of the rest of this post, and so would I, but bear with me for the next few paragraphs and then you can do what you want.

The Muggs James Thurber references was a “big, burly, choleric” Airedale who acted as if Thurber wasn’t one of the family. “There was a slight advantage in being one of the family, for he didn’t bite the family as often as he bit strangers.” Over the years, he bit everyone but Thurber’s mother, “and he made a pass at her once but missed.” Mrs. Thurber felt sorry for Muggs and often said, “He’s not strong.” Thurber says, ” [B]ut that was inaccurate; he may not have been well but he was terribly strong.” He was also sorry after he bit someone, she said, but Thurber observed he didn’t act sorry either. Mrs. Thurber’s philosophy was, “If you didn’t think he would bite you, he wouldn’t,” but the ice man didn’t buy it. “Once when Muggs bit Mrs. Rufus Sturtevant and again when he bit Lieutenant-Governor Malloy” she told the cops “that it hadn’t been Muggs’ fault but the fault of the people who were bitten. ‘When he starts for them, they scream,’ she explained, ‘and that excites him.'” The time he emerged from under the couch and bit elderly Mrs. Detweiler, Mrs. Thurber said it was just a bruise and, “He just bumped you,” but “Mrs. Detweiler left the house in a nasty state of mind.”

I met Muggs and got to know him intimately (practice, practice, practice) for a high school prose reading competition, and I’ve loved him ever since.

Well, enough. If you want to read the story, here’s the link, but I hope you’ll wait till I’ve told you about my dogs.

First came Stinky, when I was about three years old. He was a rat terrier. My dad had tied a rope to the handle of my little red wagon so he wouldn’t have to bend double when he pulled me around in it. Stinky watched, and, intelligent dog that he was, often took hold of the rope and replaced my dad at the helm. He also took the helm when I wasn’t in the wagon; on hot, moonlit summer nights, through their open bedroom windows, my parents heard him pulling the wagon around the back yard. I don’t remember it, but I was told that one day I ran into the house crying as if my heart would break and said, “I hit Stinky.” I know what happened–I had invited him to jump up on me, and he did, but pretty soon I’d had enough and he hadn’t, and I hit him to get him to back off. My heart was breaking, and over sixty years later, I still get teary when I think of it. I’m always sorry after I’ve someone. Except for my friend Phyllis, but that’s a story for another time. H, perhaps, for hit.

My mother brought home Ruffy, a Border Collie-Shepherd mix, when he was only four weeks old. The giver insisted that was old enough. It wasn’t. The acquisition of a second dog surprised my father, who, I presume, thought it should be a family decision (even at that age I was surprised they didn’t discuss it, but I suppose Mother thought a 2/3 majority was enough), but he didn’t say anything, simply set his jaw in the same way he did the summer before my senior year of college when I said I was going to drop out and go to work for the IRS. I stayed in college and got my degree, but if I hadn’t, I’d have been spared a lot of school-teacher grief and would now have federal employee health insurance, which is a super deal.

(My dad played ball with all our dogs when he thought no one was looking.)

Except for a white bib and little brown “eyebrows,” Ruffy was all black, even his eyes; his hair was thick and wavy. His official name was Rough Bones, which shows why you should never ask a pre-schooler what she wants to name a pet. We gave our dogs bones from steaks and roasts, and they gnawed on and then hid them in the lush St. Augustine grass, and I stepped on them with my perpetually bare feet and cried out in pain. Two or three times a day. At four weeks, Ruffy wasn’t yet weaned, so Mother had to feed him warm milk mixed with white Karo syrup from little doll bottles I’d gotten for Christmas. At first I woke for the four a.m. feeding–yip yip yip–but soon stopped hearing his call and slept through it.

As a young adult, Ruffy, who spent most of his time confined to a big back yard plus the adjoining quarter-acre of chicken yard that lay on the other side of the driveway, chased a twelve-year-old neighbor boy who was passing the house, and ran another one up onto the porch across the street. The stiff, heavy pocket of his new jeans saved the second one from puncture wounds. After that occurrence, we confined the dog for ten days, the time prescribed for making sure he didn’t have rabies (he’d been vaccinated).

My parents took his behavior seriously but my mom noted that both boys teased him through the hog wire fence every time they walked down the street. She believed the dog considered himself provoked; she definitely considered him provoked. (She’d told the boys to stop teasing him, to no avail.)

However, when some of Mother’s out-of-town relatives couldn’t rouse anyone at the front door and offered to enter the back yard through the picket gate, Ruffy told them in no uncertain terms not to bother.  We decided he was being a conscientious, if overzealous, watch dog. We weren’t home when they came and so couldn’t call him off. Considering these particular relatives, I thought he’d been provoked.

(When it came to me, my parents always gave the dog the benefit of the doubt. “You know Sabre snaps when you pet him; leave him alone.” Sabre, my cousins’ Cocker Spaniel, didn’t often see me, and didn’t like me bothering him (probably didn’t like me at all), and he did snap, and I knew he would snap, but he was a dog and I couldn’t help myself. I saw a dog, I petted the dog. When common sense set in, about the time I was forty, I learned restraint.)

The situation with Ruffy became clear, unfortunately, the evening we had a yard full of other relatives sitting in lawn chairs and eight-year-old Sharan appeared from down the street. While she was standing in the middle of the family circle, Ruffy walked up, in my mother’s words, “smiling, with his tongue lolling out and his tail wagging,” and bit her on the thigh.

I was in the house and didn’t see him bite. When they told me they had to take Ruffy to Dr. Matthews to be watched for ten days, and then Dr. Matthews would find him another home, I cried so hard they gave me a St. Joseph’s (baby) aspirin and put me to bed. The aspirin didn’t help. Dr. Matthews told my parents Ruffy was too good a dog to put down, and he would give him to some rancher living out in the country, away from little girl visitors. I was sad but understood. Later Dr. Matthews told them that when the ranchers he offered Ruffy to learned he’d bitten someone, they declined to take him, and so . . .  It was years before I realized what had happened to him. I asked and was told the whole story.

We later learned that Smoky, a litter mate owned by another family in town, also bit. They were both sweet, beautiful dogs, good playmates for their children, and we wondered if there was something in the genes that prompted them to bite strangers. Probably not.

I have pictures of Stinky and Ruffy, but they’re not, shall we say, accessible, so I can’t post them. The dogs pictured here don’t do them justice.

So. I’ve expended all these words on two dogs. Like Thurber, I’ve probably had more dogs than one person should have, but I’ll have to write about the rest of them later, perhaps for M, as in More Dogs.

Okay. Go read “The Dog That Bit People.” You’ll be glad you did.

***

*D is also for Dogs.

***

I wish I could post pictures of Muggs, but I’m sure they’re under copyright. However, the two links in the second paragraph take you to Thurber’s sketches of him.

Image of James Thurber by Fred Palumbo, via Wikipedia. Public domain.

Image of Rat Terrier by kteri3565, via Pixabay.com

Image of Border Collie by PascalCottel, via Pixabay.com

Memories of July 19: Ros’nears

On June 19th, I wrote about the official Juneteenth holiday. Today I’m sharing a memory that surfaces every year when June 19 comes around.

Ears of corn by mensatic via morguefile

In my corner of the world, Juneteenth marks the time corn is ripe and ready to eat.  Although most people prefer sweet corn, my family ate field corn–roasting ears, commonly pronounced ros’nears–the same kind cattle eat after it’s dried. Considering the amount we ate or froze to eat (usually sheared off the cob and served creamed) after the season ended, it’s a wonder there was any left for the cows.

My father’s uncles grew corn. When it was ready, we made a pilgrimage (or two or three . . . ) to the cornfield on Uncle Maurice’s place. Picking was an itchy job. The men usually took care of that. Shucking and removing silk was no picnic either, but everyone participated. I helped shuck (also an itchy job) and silk, but I wasn’t strong enough to chop the stem end off. More to the point, my chopping technique lacked accuracy,  so I was best occupied elsewhere.

Ears of corn by mensatic via morguefile

The variety was Yellow Dent–so-called because the kernels have “an indentation in the crown of each kernel.” Wikipedia helped me with crown; I didn’t know the word. (I use capital letters in the name because the it deserves them.)

Field corn has a heavy, musky taste; or maybe it’s musty. Neither word is correct, but they’re the best I can do. No matter–boiled, slathered with butter and covered with a sprinkling of salt, it’s delicious.

Several years ago, I mentioned Yellow Dent to some of the teacher-farmers I worked with; they’d never heard of it. I assumed that over the years it had been replaced by hybrids. A paragraph in Wikipedia corrected the assumption:

Most of the corn grown in the United States today is yellow dent corn or a closely related variety derived from it. Dent corn is the variety used in food manufacturing as the base ingredient for cornmeal flour (used in the baking of cornbread), corn chipstortillas and taco shells. Starch derived from this high-starch content variety is turned into plastics, as well as fructose which is used as a sweetener (high-fructose corn syrup) in many processed foods and soft drinks.

So Yellow Dent is still with us, serving a number of worthwhile purposes.

Its widespread use in the American diet has brought corn under scrutiny in recent years. Corn syrup is widely used as a sweetener and is an ingredient in many refined foods. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, in 2001, Americans consumed 62.6 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup. Corn is also used as cattle- and chicken feed, and is indirectly responsible for the high doses of antibiotic given to cattle. Scientific American, citing a 2008 study in which researchers analyzed meat from hamburgers and chicken sandwiches produced by three separate fast food companies in six cities across the United States, reported that “93 percent of the tissue that comprised the hamburger meat was derived from corn.” More recently, it’s been linked to the obesity epidemic.

Other sources claim that health problems arise from a diet rich in processed foods containing products derived from corn. One nutritionist says,

Ears of corn ready to eat, by Jonathunder [CC BY-SA 3.0 () or GFDL ], from Wikimedia Commons
When eaten in an unprocessed way and properly prepared, non-GMO whole corn kernels actually have some impressive nutrients to offer . . .  For example, organic corn is a vitamin C foodmagnesium-rich food, and contains certain B vitamins and potassium. It also supplies a good dose of two antioxidants linked to eye and skin health called zeaxanthin and lutein. Eating fresh corn on the cob also gives you a good amount of the daily dietary fiber you need, along with some complex carbohydrates that are a good energy source.

A friend recently remarked that ours is the last generation to eat “real food.” The corn I remember wasn’t organic, but it was real food. And it makes for happy memories.