January 20 2008

black-girl-and-bush

I absolutely adore this photograph. I think the little black girl is expressing with her look what the rest of us feel. ‘What a joke, honey!’ ‘This is one stupid white man!’ Any who…

Today I attended a glorious celebration of the King Holiday. It was held in my small town. It was produced in way that only a little hamlet like mine can.

First my adorable friend Dianna Berge’-Wrinkle and I bundled up against the unnaturally arctic Georgia weather to attend the sort of service and proclamation that local leaders give on the court house steps. Dianna was a vision in her Russian sable coat and “babushka” type hat. She had to remove it upon entering my Jaguar since as you know there isn’t a lot of head room. I wore my grandfathers wool coat with Astrakhan collar. It literally sweeps the floor…Smashing darlings!

Well we arrived at the historic courthouse built I am told in 1900. It is a beauty it has a gold dome, similar to the Georgia State Capitol. I remember a particularly beautiful but dim acquaintance pointing it out to me upon my arrival here and TELLING me it WAS the state capitol. Ahem er well she mixed a frothy and lethal champagne cocktail(Are there any other kind!?)

Everyone was gathered on the walk leading to the front where the mayor or someone like that had a podium draped with the visage of Dr. King. We had timed our arrival perfectly. As Santos pulled us up to the front of the courthouse we had just enough time to re-adjust Dianna’s chapeau and saunter up to thr front of the crowd. It was a rather eclectic group of people, but we all shared the same frigid conditions and , I don’t know it, well it made me feel as one with the group. I felt we were a bunch of freedom marchers that had traveled up north because as you know the people there were in many instances as prejudiced as those in Mississippi.

As we got to the front of the crowd, some assistant, aide, librarian or something came down from behind the podium and motioned up to two of the seats to the left of it. I needed a seat darling I had attended a cocktail party in Atlanta the night before at 103 West and the little bloody mary pick me ups Dianna and I shared in the car had not gotten me up yet, so to speak. We ascended the steps and sat down. Flattered by the attention but unsure of herself, poor darling, Dianna said we should look like visiting dignitaries. We should act like Princess de Labad does when she comes to America for a visit. The Princess, also known as chou – chou to us, gets real royal when here in the States. So I just squinted haughtily over the crowd as the Prince does(not difficult in my present condition) and Dianna occasionally did a royal wave with the barest half smile.

Not even a second later a gentleman, the mayor we discovered after the incident, came to the podium and began his speech on the Dr. King. I really did try to keep up but with the chill wind blowing all I could really think about was another bloody mary and the delicious luncheon we were going to attend later. I looked over at Dianna and noticed she was looking at the mayor smiling so I looked at him to. Suddenly some jalopy went by and back fired. Well darling people screamed and hit the ground. I had never witnessed a drive by shooting before. Dianna doesn’t like me saying that since it was a back fire and it implies we were in the wrong part of town but I get a giggle out of it.

There was pandemonium and then nervousness in the assemblage, even after the mayor had managed to convince them it was only a malfunctioning automobile. The mood had passed I looked at Dianna and said let’s go.

In the car on our way to the date with our luncheon hostess we had such a laugh. I love holidays!

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Perception. It affects us everyday. Do you see what I do? Am I noticed by you in the way I think I am? Is the  image I am sensing the same as everyone else? The nuances of life are they seen or ignored? The older I get the less I appreciate. I simply do not have as much patience as I had when younger. Is this the same for you? I mean in relationships. It seems my propensity for eclectic people was much larger than now. It seemed I collected people, all types.  Mother once remarked to me, “Your friends have the most interesting and amusing names.” In what way I replied. “Aquila, Salee, and Krista.” she stated. I suppose I did, do have interesting friends and somehow many of them had unique names. Natalie was one of the exceptions, at least in the category of names.

I met Natalie one stormy Spring day in May. I had opened a little antique shop and was trying to keep it open on Sundays to see if we could get any additional customers. I was desperate to make a go of this business. It was something that I had dreamed of doing ever since I visited my cousins, themselves dealers. I remember the large carved furniture,  clocks and porcelains placed everywhere in their second empire style house in Atlanta. They were open by appointment and lived in a warren of rooms in the back of the house. The front rooms grandly displaying their treasures dimly lit with light filtering velvet swags was something I had aspired to ever since.

My shop was a loose partnership with a lady old enough to be my Grandmother that enjoyed junk shop merchandise and as we could not afford the place all to ourselves we rented out the back to other antique dealers. I am being kind by specifying them as such. We were one step above a flea market. Our step was not on solid footing. I was always in hot water with one or more of them as I could refuse them the right to display items not in keeping with the image of the store. It was a losing battle that I had not discovered yet. One of the vendors that did try harder to have antiques was Robert and his wife Betty. Robert was also wanting to get into the business and had been haunting estate sales and auctions for years. He had a garage and multiple store sheds full of his finds.It was not a cohesive collection, which I would have liked, but more curiosities and odd items. Chamber pots with Ulysses S.  Grant’s portrait in the bottom, nautical devices that no one understood, portraits with unknown provenance.  Robert was eager as I to be successful and came by to keep me company on the first Sunday we opened. I was chatting with Robert when in the door blew Natalie.

It was quite dark, the sky was black and the wind was beginning to stir the trees on the ancient oaks surrounding the courthouse. She wore round owl looking horn rims and had a sort of terrier hair that brushed up from her ears.She was wearing a white blouse with a peter pan collar, plaid bermuda shorts and tassel loafers. Clearly not the get-up of some of our locals. I guessed she was in her 50’s.  She was inquiring about a preambulator we had displayed on the sidewalk in front of the store. Her first grandchild was recently born and ours reminded Natalie of the one her nurse used to care for her. She wanted to give her grandson the same memories. Excited to have a customer, Robert  jumped and went out to double check the price tag. It did not belong to either of us but to another dealer, an old bitter divorcee, who had a high value of everything she touched. When Robert announced the cost Natalie repiled, “No, that is too much money, it needs a lot of restoration.”, she argued noticing the frayed lining and bent wheels. “It is only worth half. ” She then looks at me for agreement. Knowing I would be crucified by my greedy vendors if I took any less I regretfully informed that a 10% reduction was all that could be allowed on the price. She proceeded thru the store and looked at the rest of our inventory.

After a while she reappeared while Robert and I were debating the possibility of a tornado. She stared at me through her square lenses and asked if I was an interior designer. “Yes, I am”,  flattered that she perceived me as such. I had not really done any real jobs at that point. Random friends’ dorm rooms and cousins in their first apartments seeking more help moving furniture than advice was my resume up to that time.

“Well I am looking for a sideboard for my dining room and some other things.”, she said in her raspy voice. It had a sarcastic bite to it and reminded me of a fairy tale witch. “You can get this type of thing , can’t you?” I very cooly replied yes. My mind was turning thinking of how lucky I was to get this customer and where would I get this thing. I had opened this little business with a partner some months before in the hopes of doing exactly this. I knew I needed to act fast, my first decorating job.

“Would you like to make an appointment? “, I was trying to find the appointment book in the desk drawer without much luck. As she was describing her taste I was wrestling with the drawer trying to open it . Damn the book was stuck inside the drawer and catching causing me a lot of difficulty. Noticing this she suggested coming by her house now. Since she had been the only one to stop all day Robert agreed we should close up and follow her home.

The house was only a mile or so down Main Street. I had passed it many times without giving it a lot of thought. Later I found out it was one of the oldest structures in our town and had once been a stagecoach house. It was a very simple two story farm house very close to the road with a darling little curved drive out the front of it. As many houses of its type are, this one was also misleading to its size. I walked in to a larger house than was expected.

Once inside we were met by two of her three dogs. All rescues and setter type mixes. Later I learned how attached she was to these dogs and how important they were to her. The living room was spacious and contained a Philadelphia style camel back sofa and various wing , goose and Martha Washington style chairs. On the mantle were a pair of old Paris porcelain urns. My word, they were beautiful. Have you ever seen any? Here is photo of some very similar to Natalie’s.  Hers were purchased by one of the “great-greats” as she called them that hung in the dining room. The portraits were dour and plain. They did not not look like the type of people that would enjoy beautiful things. I was mesmerized by their beauty. It was the beginning of my love affair with Porcelain of Paris.

In the dining room besides the portraits of the “Great-Greats”,she had a mahogany pedestal table with 12 empire style chairs.  The room looked empty. She did need a sideboard. The portraits looked so big and large on the walls with nothing to balance them.  I imagined myself entertaining  in this dining room, wine flowing amusing conversations occurring among  my guests.  Robert’s question about the provenance of a spitton broke my day dream and we continued through the rest of the house. Adding piece to my ever growing list to supplement the decor. Everything great seemed to be inherited. The newer pieces I later learned mostly came from QVC but at that time their numbers were few.

I had forgotten the increasingly gathering storm in my excitement. The cars just outside on Main Street were using their headlights now and the winds were getting to the point of howling. As the three of us were heading back downstairs, suddenly an enormous boom sounded and the entire house shook. Natalie exclaimed what was that and I had the answer immediately. “A tree has  hit your house.”

When I was five years old, one of my earliest memories was of a tree hitting my grandparents house in Atlanta. Unlike this time it was a beautiful Spring day. My Grandmother a devoted gardener and arborist had  some sort of ancient oak on the edge of the grove. It was sick and scarred and only that morning as we pulled up the tree surgeon was there consulting with her and its condition. I suppose the old tree realized it was terminal and rather wait to be euthansied by the wood axe it decided to commit suicide if you will. When it hit  my Grandmothers housing shaking it to its core it felt exactly like what  the 3 of us had felt at Natalie’s.

We went from room to room searching for the damage I knew was waiting. Entering the upstairs guest room we found it. More than half the room contained a tree. The damage was considerable and with the pouring rain entering where the roof had been, we began to move the furniture out of the room and across the hall.  Meanwhile Natalie contacted the landlord. When the landlord arrived we must have had 10 strangers and aquaintances  milling around surveying the damage and blessing Natalie’s heart.  Once an emergency tarp was stretched  over what remained of the roof, I went home. That was my first meeting with Natalie.

I looked for the items she requested but didn’t get the job but we did become friends and it was then I  discovered she hadn’t any money. Natalie was a trust fund baby. The “Great-greats” had made the fortune and then over time and generations it was diluted. Natalie had inherited a considerable trust. She had  gone to college and received a degree in nursing which she practiced until marrying her first husband. She had two daughters about the same age as me. Then divorced him and moved with the girls from New York and later to the Carolinas where she met the love of her life before arriving in Georgia.

One evening many months after that first meeting we had been cooking in her kitchen something we enjoyed more than anything. I loved it because I loved to cook and my own  kitchen was the size of a closet with a sink that drained into a bucket. It was unusable.

This evening we had consumed our normal 2  bottles of wine and was still thirsty.Natalie went to open a third and said while uncorking the bottle “John Louis Arnold was the man I loved. ” Amused by her statement ,I asked her to tell me about him and she continued.”He was so handsome and well dressed. The girls loved him. They were as crazy about him as I was. He had the best sense of humor and understood me in a way that no one ever had. I would still be following him around if I hadn’t lost the baby.”

Baby? I was shocked. What happened to the baby I wanted to know? She told me she miscarried it. John was a married man. He lived 5 days a week with her and the kids and on week ends with his other family. Natalie had been seeing him for 10  years when she became pregnant with his child. “It all worked out pretty well”, she said until I became pregnant. What did his family think about his living with you I asked. “They didn’t know. He ran a big company in Raleigh and his wife and children didn’t want to move from New York. That was were I met him, in New York at a dinner party.”  I was confused and asked if he was living in North Carolina when they met. ” Oh no, that was about a year later. He was still living in the city then. She could see my disbelief and said somewhat petulantly,”Sometimes you do things that  make a lot of sense at the time. I had nothing going on in New York and the girls were young not even in school yet and I always loved the South so we moved to be near him.

“What did the girls think about him leaving on the week ends ?” , I asked.  “Oh, that was when we got involved with the horses. On weekends we started showing horses and became very involved in it. The girls really enjoyed it. Lisabeth became quite good and began advancing in her levels. It’s very involved , horses. You have to keep the stalls clean and feed them and of course all the traveling for the events. It kept us busy. I even started a magazine for devotees called Quarter Horse Illustrated.” She brought the wine over to the table as she spoke this and began to refill our glasses. Then sitting down softly and her eyes beaming she added, “that was the best time of my life.”

I asked obviously curious about John’s whereabouts. Where is he now? Wiping her forehead with her hand and looking for a cracker she said, “oh I don’t know that was all over 15 years ago.” I began to get impatient as she was obviously finished with  the story. I had to know why they split. When I asked her this very question  she said Oh I don’t know, I didn’t love him anymore.”

“But what happened. you followed this man to another state and lived with him most of the week “

“Michael after losing that baby I just thought this is not for me and I left him. We sold the horses and moved to Atlanta.”

She could be very exasperating. She was a confidante one minute and close lipped the next.           She supported herself by selling businesses much like a real estate agent except as we became better and better friends I learned that she hadn’t sold any businesses in a long time, in fact she didn’t have the licenses to sell at all. Natalie  acted as a liaison with the broker and received a cut when one she listed sold. Now she mostly  she sat in her den surrounded by more and more of her QVC treasures and often spending all day tuned into it and ordering more. It became very normal if I was visiting on a  day off to go and accept packages for her if she was busy in the kitchen. One just expected the U.P.S. van to arrive everyday.

Then the economy began to falter and what remained of her daughters’ trust began to produce greatly reduced dividends. Somehow Natalie enjoyed the interest on her girls trust but it never covered much more than the rent on her house. She paid for her habit with her a diners club card and now was at its limit.

One day she called me at work frantic. The sheriff had been to the house. He had delivered an eviction notice. She needed to borrow money. I had been giving her twenty dollars here and there to buy food for her dogs or a gallon of milk but this time she needed thousands. She hadn’t paid rent in months she explained and before that only half of the rent amount for months. None of our little circle had any money. I had sold my half of the antique shop to one of the vendors for only what my deposits were upon opening. I had just wanted out, I was tired of fighting them. I was now a buyer for the gift shop at a historic site barely eking out enough money to support myself. All the others of our group were in a similar condition. So she had a yard sale.

It broke my heart to see her selling her Father’s portrait in the driveway. He was handsome in his Harvard rep tie looking out confidently from the gilt frame and the woman haggling with her so common in her stretch pants and pull over. She only raised a few hundred dollars and I was surprised at her anger with her landlord. I knew her landlord and had discovered after meeting with her to plead Natalie’s case that she had been lied to over and over. She also knew about the QVC addiction. Although she had sold most of her furniture, she still had museum quality pieces upstairs that she had not tried to sell and those beautiful Porcelain of Paris Urns. Knowing eviction day was looming I suggested moving those and anything else to my house for safe keeping. This was answered with a resolute no. She wasn’t  hiding anything. She was taking the urns to Atlanta on Saturday to a fine art and antique dealer to sell them. She was then packing and moving to be near one of her daughters in Alabama.

Saturday after leaving work and getting home I called Natalie to see how much she was able to sell the urns. She answered laughingly saying she dropped them in the parking lot and they were in a million little pieces there now, much like her own life. She couldn’t hold it all together any more.

She didn’t move before the sheriff arrived. He came with the landlord who chose the best of what was left of her furniture, the rest she was given forty eight hours to have off the property. There wasn’t that much left. Her daughter arrived with her husband and they loaded the remains in a U-Haul and took it all to Alabama. Trying to  to stay in touch was made difficult by distance and time. Many years later my friend Renee suggested looking up old Nat. With the magic of the internet we were able to do this in short order. She was working as a care giver on the night shift in a south Alabama nursing home. She told us this in her raspy voice. I wondered how she was able to do the job as she was old enough to be a patient there herself. I asked her if she still enjoyed cooking and she said cooking with me all those years ago was one of the best memories of her life.

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Monday, August 15.2011

When In Rome

I was chatting with my friend Anne today. I am always so pleased to catch up with her. We have been friends for years like, twenty-five years I think. We are very sympathetic. We understand one another. We met back in the 1980’s working for a now defunct major retailer of antique reproductions. I am always struck by her correctness and carriage. She has the discipline. Except for the slightest thickening in the waist, she still enjoys the figure she sported in bikinis at that time.

Anne and I are realists. We speak very bluntly. Anne and I  have similar antecedents, although her immediate are a bit grander than mine at the present.  You know coats of arms hanging on the gate clanking in the wind, which is very appropriate as both our families have had a glorious past, shaky present and uncertain future. I know that the glory days are probably behind me. As another good friend in Cartersville once said to me, “Michael, you and I are  members of the best this area has to offer and no one knows this because we are dead or dying out!” When my sister, Michele and I were little and Mother was still giving teas we were instructed: “If anyone asks if you are related to those Biddys in Cartersville, you are to say NO!”  Michele and I had such a limited knowledge of Daddy’s family beyond a few Aunts and Uncles we adored,  that we found it great fun to answer yes to the astonished questioners. We were related to those Cartersville Biddys! Being raised as young ladies and gentleman, doesn’t that sound archaic now, our answers were not held against us. Well my friend Anne was of this and so much more.

She was an equestrian. She attended the best private schools and her older brother held dances  in his ballroom.  Her Mother and Daddy had remarried in their forties and had Anne very un-expectantly. They divorced when she was seven and she was raised primarily by her Mother and her older half siblings. Parties and ponies and balls were a large part of her early years. Her Mother, Big Momma’s first husbands family had brought motion pictures to northwest Georgia and Tennessee.  It was a glamorous time for her seeing all the autographed photos from various premieres and attending some herself when a pre teen in New York . Her half-brother, Lionel, was heir apparent to this movie empire.

Lionel  moved in with his Grandfather when he was eight. Grandfather had been a part of this Theater building with his Father. Lionel had/ has a sixth sense about who is who and what is what and even at this young age knew his place was in his Grandfather’s house. Lionel, Big Momma, Anne’s Mother, also knew this. He sat at his grandfather’s table and learned everything he needed to know to be a favorite. That big house with the ballroom was where Lionel was destined to be. He learned all the intrigue and politics of the business. He learned who was who and what was what, both in the movie industry and the family itself. Lionel was beautifully mannered, well spoken and charmed almost everyone he met, especially widowed lonely Grandfather.  Grandfather had one spinster daughter that also lived in that grand house, but she was forever worried about his drinking, his cigars, his monthly card game  and the young lady that came twice a week to teach Lionel piano.

When the time came , after much fighting and sibling rivalry among Grandfather’s children, Lionel inherited the controlling interest in the family firm and the house with the fabled ballroom. There was a great deal of hatred and jealousy  toward him. Anne told me he gained complete control in the late sixties and as we all know things were changing then, especially with the movies. It was difficult to remain profitable. The movie industry had been in flux for some time. At one time there had been a large income to divide among the various family members, but this was beginning to diminish. There wasn’t a lot of money left. Someone would have to get a job.

When I met Anne in the early 1980’s, the firm was gone. Lionel had used his sensibilities and taste tp start a highly successful interior design business. The family that remained were bitter. They had brought a multi million dollar law suit against Lionel for embezzlement of company funds. They were suffering in their diminshed lifestyles. He was enjoying what he does best, creating the most tasteful environments for clients to enjoy. He wasn’t happier. The 1980’s was a very excessive period. It was always some corporate buyout and leveraging some business for personal gain. The drama has always high. I always thought of Dynasty when Anne would tell me the latest saga in her brother’s life. The latest motion filed and the cocaine addicted attorneys that Lionel was being duped by. Anne was always immaculately turned out and so correct. We would “slum”and drink Perrier Jouet from the bottle. She was glamorous, still is.  Nothing could possibly go wrong for them. You must imagine my surprise in the early 1990’s when her brother was convicted and sent to prison.

We were living together at the time. She was staying in the spare bedroom of my townhouse. She was between houses and an evening turned into a little more than a year. It was a life change for her. Her life somehow reflected her brother’s. I didn’t understand it then, but now I do. 

Anne corresponded with Lionel religiously. He was in a maximum security prison. I could not imagine what he was experiencing. I had met him only once when he was liquidating the family house with the ballroom. Anne in her degage’ way had mentioned going to visit him. When we pulled into the back garden there was a frenzy of activity. Sugar Blond society matrons, extra men and hispanic servants were dispensing with generations of accumulation. I could not believe the beauty and decadence of what I was witnessing. These epic rooms were mostly stripped but all in some form of dishabille were like a movie set. The front hall with its seeming miles of hand blocked wallpaper from France to the storied ballroom with photographs of Lionel and his Mother in formal wear still  displayed on the Louis XV plat desk. I always thought of Lionel as blond, slim and tall; he was actually very small. He was somewhat round, balding and bespectacled. He did  have a sexy mischievous way about him though and I certainly fell for his charm. “Anne tells me you like books. Go upstairs and take whatever you like”, he said this with a twinkle in his eye.  Anne said let’s see what you want. Somehow in this tragedy he could still make me feel like an important guest. Anne and I  went up this grand staircase into an equally epic master bedroom. He had a beveled plated glass mirror behind the chinoiserie upholstered headboard. It was at least 12 feet tall. The books in the magnificent built-in were 1920’s -1940’s vintage mostly. Leather bound histories, Biographies, and Harvard classics. We loaded about 150 of them into my car and followed Lionel and his best friend Paul to Big Momma’s house.

Once we were there we all came into the living room. Big Momma began to ask questions of Lionel, like did you get what you wanted and did anyone come by while you were emptying out the house. As I sat there I realized he had left a King’s ransom in antiques to be confiscated. The sheriff was coming to seize the contents the next day. All the China we had tossed onto the floor boards of our cars had been Limoges, Royal Crown Derby, Cartier, etc.  I was struck by the comme il faut nature of it all. No pity. No accusations. This is the way we live now, so to speak.

Anne shared with  me some of the stories of Lionel’s incarceration. The ladies that made the pilgrimage to get their Pratt and Lambert colours  approved through a bullet proof glass. The interpretation skills of Lionel in negotiating for the hispanic prisoners. His joie de vivre in spite of it all. He was/ is an inspiration to me.

Now, many years later , that he has been released and is more succesful than ever, even in this economy. He and Anne have never let the flag droop, but less waver(Paris Hiltons of the world take notice) and still run the most chic  residence in Northwest Georgia. When Big Momma died a few years ago 300 people showed up to give condolence, but mostly to see their fabled house.  I always say I am talented but Anne and Lionel have the last word.

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Monday. June, 27 2011

Bigfoot, Aliens and Ghostly Encounters

It seems to me that in the last few years there have been a lot of television programs about rumored creatures from folklore, spirits from the deathly realm and u.f.o’s from planets yet uncharted. Scientific methods are employed to find the Bigfoots and other rumored creatures of the wilderness. Paranormal explorers are on every channel taking time out of their busy days fixing drains or from studying for their college exams to try to determine if the haunt site has validity. Retired service men have some stories to share with you about what they were forced to conceal while serving out on  lonely desert bases. Wow I hardly know which one to choose because sometimes they show simultaneously on different channels. I want to view them all!

For most of these shows I am a fan; I must admit to this. It was instilled into me at an early age by the old show “In Search Of…” Does anyone remember this? If not here is a link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z0S2zPNP6s. It came on late Saturday afternoons. It was so interesting and creepy. The show focused on many subjects ranging from Amelia Earhart to Atlantis. I was only eleven at the time and I had never heard of these creatures or places. It was a new strange world opening for me. As I ‘ve aged I experience this newness less and less.  My cousin Ricky, and only real male friend of my youth, shared this same interest in the supernatural.

Ricky was only six months older than me but one school year ahead. He was the oldest grandchild and seemed to excel in every way. Being on the maternal side of the family and being the oldest son of the oldest son, he was  particularly special in Papa’s eyes. Ricky was the heir to all things Cox. During the Summer Ricky and I would spend the night at each others houses and at our Grandparents house in Atlanta.  When we were at Mama and Papa’s house we could read from Mama’s extensive stack of National Enquirer magazines. These often featured stories and headlines about  sensational beings or creatures. I still remember one announcing on the front page, UFOs WILL CONTACT EARTH IN SIX MONTHS! We saw this issue on a crisp Fall afternoon one Sunday. We could not believe that Mama had casually mixed it in with the Atlanta Journal and back issues of Ladies Home Journal. For us, this was a major piece of news!

Our families had gathered at my grandparents house for Sunday dinner. I still remember that day all these years later. There was the excited anticipation between all the children, the holidays were just around the corner. It was mid October. Once Halloween came and went it was a quick down hill slide to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Ricky and I did not join in; we were more excited about the contact that might be coming in six months. Let  the younger ones begin the pre-Christmas chatter.

After dinner my cousin and  I slipped away from the family and went out to the front porch to discuss the sensational article. No one would bother us out there. After Labor Day the porch was  neglected. Among the fading begonias and gathering dust, we could discuss our separate views of this announcement without any younger siblings giving their opinions. This was a subject not to be taken lightly.

The National Enquirer  had never printed an actual date of contact! We asked one another, Could it be true?. Who will they contact? I cannot remember the particulars of the article now but it was provocative to us then. It was a subject that we shared and enjoyed. That bond between us was unique for me. He treated me as an equal at a time I didn’t often feel that way. I was overweight and not particularly popular at school or home. Like most kids at one time or other I never felt I belonged. This new world of Bigfoot and aliens and later hauntings gave me something that I had in common with other boys. I might not play baseball or football but I knew a lot about this stuff and could speak confidently about it. It allowed me to fit it.

So many years later I still enjoy watching the shows on television. Does Ricky? The years have separated us in  its usual ways, but whether I am watching  some lesser known celebrity over emote their ghost story or a group of pseudo scientists on discovery channel hunting for Bigfoot.;it brings back memories . Memories of days spent lying on my stomach reading those inane stories in papa’s den or watching “In search of” with my family on a Saturday afternoon in our own. I suppose that mostly it helped me begin to discover self-esteem.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, Virginia

The above picture is the facade of Belle Grove Plantation’s manor house. I have been a docent here giving house tours for about two months. Belle Grove was completed in 1797 by Major Issac Hite and is located in Middletown,  Virginia.  The house is listed on the National Register and is apart of the Historic Trust. Here is the link:http://www.bellegrove.org/index.php.

Looking across the lawns at Longfield , Danielle and John's wedding

I am not going to get into the history; you can research that yourself. I am going to tell you that the serenity and beauty will soothe you. It has, at any rate, helped me  be less homesick for northwestern Georgia and my family farm, Longfield.  My new best friend Vickie Mae Puckett, I know we are somehow related as my great-grandmother was a Puckett with family ties in Virginia, got me involved with this historic house. Last Summer she gave Scott and I a behind the scenes tour and  I completely fell in love with the house. It is beautifully situated on a slight knoll overlooking the landscape. The house was completed in 1797 in what was still  frontier area of our budding nation. Belle Grove is at once elegant and simple.

I approached Vickie in January about volunteering and she sponsored me in February. I have been giving house tours  for the last two months. I love being the host for however few hours to visitors seeing this beautiful property. I always hoped my family farm in Georgia would convey this feeling to guests. I think at times it did. I was always so proud of our house and grounds there and  enjoyed the  times I was able to welcome people to it, even if my parents were rather reluctant.

When I was thirteen years old after some years of looking my parents bought 27 acres of property in Bartow County Georgia. They had decided to become poultry farmers. Actually the poultry farm was Daddy’s idea. Mother really never wanted any part of it though it fell to her to run it. Despite her unhappiness at doing so , Mother consistently won awards for the quality of chicken she “raised.”The land they purchased was in an area known as Old Cass Station. There are some railroad tracks near the property and in antebellum times there was a train station there. This is where passengers would disembark for Cassville, Georgia in those days a sizeable town and destination. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassville,_Georgia After my parents purchased the property my maternal grandparents came up for a visit. We were shocked to learn that my parents purchase were part of an original 2000 acre estate owned by my Grandfather, Papa’s family.

As with most families, after the matriarch Grandmother Cox died, there were some hurt feelings over inheritances and final wishes. This resulted in my Grandfather and his siblings to be estranged for over 20 years. Someone I know once remarked to me at a funeral,”Death should bring us together but it usually pulls us apart.”  I was a very young man then, grieving at my own Grandmother’s funeral and didn’t completely understand what she meant. Now I do. It was incomprehensible to me, at the age of  thirteen,that  my Mother had never been to this old home place of Papa’s. Later after I aged and began to experience more  death and the resulting aftermath I began to understand  my friend’s comment and why Mother was unfamiliar with this beautiful property and why I am now becoming a stranger to it as well.

The view to the left is from Belle Grove Looking  out over the lawns and pastures. When I am waiting for visitors between tours and stand in the front hall, I feel for a moment  what many previous owners must have felt here, a sense of belonging. It may be fleeting but in my own small way I am fortunate to be a part of this place as I was at Longfield.

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Tuesday, June 14 2011

After ejecting a shoplifter from Brooks Brothers, I made it back from Queenstown in one piece. I was so happy to be back. Three days to do whatever I liked upon my return. I decided to do what I currently love doing best, cooking. Dinner at home with friends, to me, is the best form of entertainment. I think to share a meal around a table with good conversation is about as good as it gets.

What do you like to cook? Lately, I have been getting back to my roots preparing dishes from my native Deep South. The hospitality my Mother and Grandmother always showed family, friends and visitors alike, well there is nothing like it. Good food is the foundation but an actual love of entertaining people is the key. Whether served on heirloom china in a chandeliered dining room or enjoyed huddled over a kitchen table, if the host or hostess is congenial then it is an event.

Scott and I asked a few people, six actually, for a supper of Deviled Eggs, Skewered Beef, Black Bean Soup, Fried Chicken, Baked Virginia Ham, Biscuits, Crackling Cornbread, Squash Casserole, Macaroni and Cheese, Rice and Gravy, Turnip Greens and Green Beans.  Dessert was a bold departure from the usual Banana Pudding , Blanc Mange or Chocolate Cake. I was perusing the James Beard website and saw an article on a chef from Alabama, Joshua Quick. He cooks at the 360 Grille at Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa in Florence, Alabama. Well he concocted this odd dessert of Blueberry Sponge Cake and topped it with a Strawberry and Jalapeno Jelly.Then he paired it with a Buttermilk Ice cream drizzled with a Strawberry-Apple Gastrique. I was intrigued by this and started to look for the recipes. There were none. Thank God for google. The Strawberry sponge cake wasn’t difficult , neither was the buttermilk ice cream. As I am sure you figured, the Strawberry-Jalapeno Jelly receipe was not to be found. I did, however, find gastrique recipes.

How many of you have ever heard of gastriques? I never had until I ran across Mr. Quick’s dessert, but there is an entire repertoire of them. For those who are not familiar with gastriques here is the definition: Gastrique is a reduction of vinegar and sugar brought to light caramelization, to which a little fond (stock) is added. It is a base to which many other ingredients, or just a few, can be added to form a sauce. It is generally used to create a sweet and sour sauce; one of the classics being orange sauce for duck (à l’orange). Mine had sliced strawberries, balsamic vinegar, orange juice concentrate, garlic, sugar, and butter.

The Strawberry-Jalapeno Jelly I had to really think about. The idea of congealed bits of hot crunchy jalapeno suspended with strawberries in Jello, well it grossed me out. The Christmas congealed salads of my childhood are a nightmarish memory of green jello with mystery food caught up inside and I did not want to relive that or put my dinner guest in the awkward position to eat it. I decided to roast hulled strawberries and finely chopped jalapeno. First they were tossed in virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and heavily dusted in granulated sugar. Roasting  at 400 degrees deepened the flavors and created a rich syrup. After cooling, strawberry preserves were heated  in a saucepan. When they began to simmer I added the roasted strawberries, jalapeno and their gooey syrup. After heating these through, it all went into the refrigerator to thicken. Do you want to know what? EVERYONE raved over it! The cake was light and flavorful. Beleive it or not the strawberry-jalapeno sauce made it sweeter . The mellowed peppers gave a slight kick at the end of the palate. The buttermilk ice cream was rich and tangy and again the garlic and vinegar in the gastric rounded out the flavors nicely. Scott loved it and he is very picky. I enjoyed preparing something that evoked my home and yet was completely new. Thank you Mr. Quick.

 

 

 

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Thursday. June 2,2011

This is the view from my room in the Holiday Inn Express. It is the only redeeming quality of my stay here. I was looking at this upon my return late this afternoon from Brooks Brothers , as I watched the herons lope by and the cord grass wave in the breeze my mind wandered into the den of my Grandmother’s house in Atlanta. “Mama”, as we called her, had a rather large provincial style urn that rested on the hearth of the fireplace and in it she had arranged a mass of sea oats. She was always chic. Everything she touched with her immaculately manicured hands spotted with age and silky smooth with a delicate scent of lotion,always looked effortless yet perfect in their arrangements. Mama always had a quiet way of accomplishing her tasks whether they be artistic or of the mundane variety.  She never made a big deal out of anything she did. She did these things, I suppose ,to please herself and in so doing pleased us as well.

When my Sister Michele was sixteen years old she took a cruise with a lot of our classmates from school. I didn’t want to go but Michele has that get up and go gene that seems to pass among the women in our family. My Grandmother and Mother decided that she must have a different outfit to wear every evening of the cruise. Of course this is the way people used to dress for dinner in my Mother’s younger lifetime and in Mama’s lifetime. My Grandparents traveled a few times rather extensively in Europe on their honeymoon spending almost a week in Mussolini’s Italy. While there they took a gorgeous panoramic shot of the coliseum which I have today. My sisters have the clanky charmed studded bracelets Mama brought back and at time wore in profusion on her wrists. Twenty years later on their anniversary my Grandparents returned to the places visited on the first journey. When they arrived for a three nights stay in Rome my Grandmother said all the charm was missing. There was so much electricity in the air before with Mussolini that years later on their second visit she found it poor and dirty. Luckily for me, Papa took another photo of the coliseum and I have that one too. On their honeymoon Mama always wore Evening in Paris. She said she thought it was the best smelling perfume she had known up to that time,later she decided it was Shalimar with White Shoulders running a close second.So when Michele decided to go on her first cruise Mama, in a nostalgic mood and Mother got busy planning her evening attire.

 

She would have five nights at sea lazily sailing on the Caribbean with one night at the Captain’s table. My Grandfather, Papa, was calling in a favor for that invitation. I don’t remember all the out fits but two come to mind. One was  a red and black taffeta plaid number with lug o’ mutton sleeves and a cocktail length skirt . The other ensemble consisted of a long full pink taffeta skirt with attached cumberbund and a pink pastel printed chiffon blouse that buttoned to the neck . One demure and one a bit more sexy. All the women in my Mother’s family could sew and they decided to make  these dresses.

They worked for many evenings and hours. They fitted a sometime petulant sister and pulled open seams and adjusted and even took apart an old pearl choker of my great grandmother’s for buttons on the chiffon blouse. She was ready for than a Carnival Cruise line. Actually looking back on it she was more properly attired for the QE2.

Michele loved her time on the ship. She took many photos. After they were developed Mother was looking at them and became alarmed. I knew what she was angry about as I had already seen them. The night Michele and her friends dined with the captain she wasn’t wearing her demure pink chiffon and taffeta. No, she was in a tight white micro mini jean skirt with red satin camisole and matching white denim bolero jacket! Michele told me that she wore some of the dresses but that she received so many looks from the other passengers and crew members that she ditched them after the second night and went shopping in the duty-free shop.

 

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