A Good Day

 

 

Sometimes a good day happens. Maybe we know it’s coming. There may be an event on a calendar, some predicted fanfare. Maybe a celebration is due. On those occasions, the foreknowledge does nothing to lessen the day’s being special. Perhaps, instead, it amplifies the joy or appreciation. Those times are lovely. Just grand, really.

 

But we don’t always know a good day is coming. In fact, we may think anything but good is slated. Maybe we’ve got work commitments. Maybe family or friends need our time and attention. We may not look forward to a particular day, as foreknowledge of responsibilities can often be a drag. And if one’s expectations are for a bad time, it is entirely possible for a day to live down to one’s brain-hole’s lowly vision. That’s not just a mouthful of words; it’s a bummer.

 

The other day, I had a meeting to get to and while I had committed myself to the time and energy, when it rolled around on the calendar, I wanted to work on some paintings instead. But given my word, I had, and so I went. The meeting was just fine (which it was always bound to be, given the attendees), and my time there was well-spent. After the meeting, one of my very favorite people asked if I was open to going out for lunch. I was. Then she suggested we invite another fab-o person. We did, and she said yes. So off we went. We talked and laughed and got deep and agreed that, given enough time, the three of us could solve the world’s problems. Not once did we look at our phones. Not once did our attention leave what was going on at that table. It was honest-to-goodness human connection, and it was swell.

 

After leaving my friends, I went to a new seafood shop and got some fish for supper. The place is super-cool and the guy who helped me was not only nice, but also knowledgeable. (I kind of want that from a monger, as I don’t know squat about the world of fish.) When he asked what I was making, I told him: ceviche. He told me a little about his recipe, and as he listed ingredients, I realized I had completely forgotten to add a hint of sugar to my own mental recipe. I thanked him kindly and headed home.

 

Once there, I set about making the ceviche and put it in the fridge to “cook.” Mister had been working from home that day, and when he gave me the signal that he was knocking off for the day, I mixed us a couple of drinks and we toasted. What did we toast? Nothing really. Everything. We were happy we got to spend the evening together and that we had some good food to share. I brought out the ceviche and some tortilla chips and we dug in. Best I’ve ever made.

 

Then we watched a movie, Maudie. I loved it so much and was so glad I saw it. I was so glad Mister had selected it. It reminded me of my great-grandmother and an old “Soap Sally” mask she had sewn – a superb piece of folk art. I told Mister that if I could have anything from Granny Vera, it would be that mask. As I only have memories, I cried a little, then wondered if I was crying for Granny or Maudie. I decided it didn’t really matter. We got ready for bed and turned out the lights.

 

As I was falling asleep, my slightly drunk mind looked back over the day. It had come without fanfare. Without celebration. There had been some work and some fun. Some socializing and some responsibility. I hadn’t foreseen its value, but it was indeed worthy. It had been a good day, and I knew it. I drifted off, thinking of how lovely life can be. Truly.

A Break In The Clouds: L.A. Womens March

 

 

It started on Thursday. Actually, it started a few weeks ago, when I decided I would make myself a pink(ish) hat to wear to the march. As I sat there, surrounded by yarn and crocheting away, Mister asked if I planned to make a hat for him. I didn’t even know he was thinking of going with me to the march, let alone wearing a pussy hat – a symbol of the march. I got more yarn.

 

 

But I digress. It’s been raining here in Los Angeles. A lot. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m just saying. On Thursday, there was a beautiful break in the clouds. I knew that if Mister and I were going to indeed take the train downtown for Saturday’s march, I needed to make sure our rider cards were loaded and ready to go. You see, we’ve had the ugly experience of arriving at the train station during a crazy-busy time (Rams home game), only to realize our rider cards held no credit. That day, as I recall, we waited in line for almost an hour to re-load the danged cards. It wasn’t pretty and I did not want a command performance. So when I looked outside and saw that beautiful blue sky peeking through those heavy clouds, I decided to get in a little exercise and walk to the train station to take care of business.

 

 

I was in a shitty mood. I knew that the next day would see a lying, unqualified, bully of a sexual predator sworn in as president and I was heartbroken. My sunglasses hid my tears from passersby, but I knew I was crying. And I didn’t know how to stop. That’s when she popped into my head – my great grandmother. She’s been gone nearly two decades, but she planted herself in my mind and I decided to let her visit for a while. I started telling her all about our outgoing President, and how I bet she would have loved him. I told her how intelligent and decent he is. How quick-witted and kind he is. I told her about his beautiful family and how they’ve all been incredible role-models for what a loving family can be. She kept asking questions (she was always curious) and I kept answering. Before I knew it, I had arrived at the train station, re-loaded our rider cards and walked all the way home. Granny Vera kept me company the whole time. Focusing on President Obama had dried my tears and lifted my spirits. I spent the rest of the day thinking of my Granny and the greatest President I will likely ever know. I slept well that night.

 

 

On Friday, the rain returned. I woke to find a couple of emails from a British buddy. He let me know that it was Tom Baker’s birthday (the 4th “Doctor Who”) and that the Brits were thinking of us on our day of gloom. (Actually – I think he used the word “doom-ly”. It was completely apt.) He also sent a link to a UK piece tying the US inauguration of a cheeto to “Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy” and it was hilarious. Those thoughts got me through the day and I was grateful. That night, Mister and I decided to watch Hitchhiker’s Guide. I laughed my ass off (thank you, Sam Rockwell) and the movie reminded me of the beauty of this planet. I needed that. Then Mister and I turned in, hoping to get an early start for the next morning’s march. You know – just in case it turned out to be crowded.

 

 

The L.A. March was scheduled to begin at 9am. Mister and I got to the train station at 8, beneath a sunny sky. The first thing we saw was a huge crowd, waiting in line to get their rider cards. (Crisis averted on that front!) We then went downstairs to the station platform. We immediately realized our timing wasn’t early enough. I thought we’d have to wait for at least another train or two, but Mister said he thought we could squeeze into a crowded car. By the grace of other riders, we wedged ourselves against the train’s door and stayed there until we reached the designated stop downtown.

 

 

I’m not claustrophobic. Tight quarters don’t rattle me. Crowds, on the other hand, are not my jam. Being around scads of people has become challenging for me. This discomfort began last summer, during the ugly rallies in support of Drumpf. The hatred, the bile and the vitriol shown in videos of those gatherings was disgusting and pathetic. Those pitiful, duped attendees were sad and ugly. After seeing far too much of that, I became hesitant to attend large gatherings. I can’t explain it. But it came to pass that I began staying away from big crowds when I could. Which brings me back to Saturday morning on that downtown-bound train. The photo of me kissing the train doors is a bit of a joke, but not by much. I spent my entire train ride with my face against those doors, thinking about where I was going. And why. Thinking about Mister being beside me, wearing his pussy hat. Thinking about the joyful camaraderie of the standing-room-only crowd in the train car. I was doing a pretty good job of staying calm, though my lip was sweating and my hands were shaking. Then I heard the prerecorded train announcement: “The next stop is Pershing Square.” The train roared with glee. We were almost there.

 

When the doors opened, I said goodbye to the friendly doors I’d been pressed against and joined the throng as we made our way upstairs. That’s when Mister spotted the “Impeach” button on a rider’s backpack. It made me think about Georgia, and I wondered how many people would show up to march in Atlanta. Still a little shaky from the ride, I moved slowly up the stairs, with Mister by my side. We were talking about how crowded the train had been, then we emerged into daylight and holy shit! We were blown away.

 

 

I won’t lie. I was still feeling a little crowd anxiety. But it was abating. Oddly enough, the more people I saw – people joining the march, people smiling at strangers, people introducing their children to Democracy – the calmer I became. And there was this vibe. It caught me by surprise. It also overwhelmed me. And that vibe’s name was Zen.

 

 

Seriously. The energy of the crowd was just beautiful. Because we were all packed into a street, there wasn’t a lot of room to accommodate a whole lot of bodies. People occasionally bumped into one another, or accidentally stepped on someone’s feet. But it was all acknowledged and forgiven. People of every gender, color, age,religion, nationality – all were welcome. It was calm and lovely. It was kind and inclusive. I was amazed and comforted. More than once, I cried happy tears. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

 

 

The signs were a treat, too. Some were expected, some not. The tone of the signs was varied, and I appreciated that. (One of my favorites from the day read, “Honestly – I Would Have Preferred An Actual Swamp.”) A lot of feelings are floating around out there, which is completely understandable, given president cheeto’s hateful rhetoric. People are afraid. And they should be. This administration is hell-bent on creating hell-on-earth. We all knew it, too. But we didn’t wallow. Instead, we roared. Mightily.

 

 

Some of the signs were hand-made. Some were printed. Others were unique and ran the gamut from simple to not-at-all simple.

 

 

This one may have permanently affected my rods and cones. I’m not sure my eyes will ever be the same…

 

 

Being me, I wasn’t tall enough to see everything going on around us. Mister had to be my designated tall person, so he was able to tell me how far the crowds reached down streets in all directions. Here in L.A., our numbers exceeded all expectations and the march’s route had to be amended on the fly. We were slated to march down only one street. We took over three, if not four. (I know about 3, for sure.) As the march moved peacefully and slowly toward city hall, the assembled chanted and chatted. We took photos as we took it all in. I think we knew we’d be taking it in for some time.

 

 

I still don’t know just how many of us showed up. March organizers were putting the numbers north of 700,000. Personally, Mister and I knew loads of people who attended, but we didn’t cross paths with even one of them. I guess that’s what happens when you’re hanging out with 700,000 of your tribe members. And make no mistake. We were definitely with our tribe.

 

 

In the afternoon, Mister and I looked at each other, smiled and knew it was time to go. We walked to Union Station and made our way to the train platform. This time, it was even more crowded than when we’d started out in the morning. But we knew we could handle it. We’d fared just fine getting to the march. Getting home wouldn’t be a problem.

 

 

I wondered if the crowded train would hold the same positive energy we’d experienced in the morning. At first, I didn’t think so. Then the crowd of riders began to talk about the day. I watched the smiles return. I heard people offering to squeeze one more person onto a seat. Children, tired from the day, fell asleep in their seats or in their parents’ arms. And as we approached the end of the line, the train’s operator spoke to us all over the intercom. He said that, though he wasn’t supposed to comment on anything political, he was willing to take the risk. He said how much he admired what we’d done that day. He said that in all his thirteen years of working for Metro, he’d never seen such numbers. He thanked us for our patience in dealing with the filled-to-capacity trains and wished us well. We, the riders, thundered with applause. It was a beautiful way to end the day. I hope I never forget it.

 

Styrofoam Memories

 

 

It’s funny how something as simple as a styrofoam cup can make your day. Yesterday I got myself an iced tea and the diner folks gave it to me in a styrofoam cup. I didn’t think much of it, at first, but as the day chugged along I found myself having all kinds of thoughts about it.

 

The first thing I noticed was how nice and cool my iced tea was, even though I kept leaving the cup in my hot car. After a couple of hours, that tea still had a chill on it and I was impressed. (Even my insulated cup can’t do that.) Suddenly an image of old-school styrofoam coolers popped into my head. And I remembered how prevalent they were when I was a kid. For a lot of folks, the mere mention of the word cooler meant the styrofoam variety. And if someone was going fishing (and someone was always going fishing), well of course they were gonna take the styrofoam cooler with them, as that was the fishing cooler, for cry-eye. Now – some fancy folks got themselves a new fishing cooler every time they went out. But not my people. They were the kind of folks who would use an old fishing cooler until it crumbled away, leaving little white or blue beads to hang around in rivers, ponds, forests and car trunks for all time. It didn’t matter that you could go get yourself a new fishing cooler at the Piggly-Wiggly for about a dollar. If the old one was still working, it would do.

 

The next image that came to mind took me to Granny Vera’s and Big Papa’s old, ramshackle house. In the dark hallway, just outside the front sitting room, there was a grand, old bureau that Big Papa had built himself. I don’t remember a single thing about what filled its overstuffed drawers, nor do I remember any of the ka-jillion tchotchkes that cluttered its flat top. But I do remember the water bucket. On the right-hand side of the bureau sat an old plastic try. It held one thing: a styrofoam ice bucket with a lid. No matter what time of year, that bucket held cool water. Hanging on a nail in the wall beside the bureau was a metal ladle. Every one of us who entered or lived in Granny’s and Papa’s house drank from that ladle. We didn’t fill cups or take more than a healthy sip. And we never worried about germs. Clearly, none of us had cold sores, as no one got The Herp or anything. It was simple. If you were thirsty, you helped yourself to a drink of water. Problem solved. And while I do remember that bucket always providing liquid sustenance, I don’t remember ever seeing who filled it. I’m assuming it was Granny Vera, as that just doesn’t seem like something Papa would have done. But I could be wrong about that. And it doesn’t matter anyway.

 

And then I came back to the iced tea in the styrofoam cup, standing between my old car’s bucket seats. I don’t see a lot of styrofoam anymore. Not good for the environment. Ah, well. We do what we’ve gotta do. This one says it’s recyclable in Los Angeles. Okay. I’ll take care of that. In the meantime, I sure did enjoy all the memories triggered by that cup. Just like I enjoyed the cool, quenching tea held within.

Thursday Memories

 

 

This is me in the late 1980s. Or maybe 1990. I’m not quite sure. Either way, this photo was taken before I’d learned to cook. That is apparent, right?

 

It’s funny to think about, but I didn’t always know how to cook. I always liked good food, but making it myself took time and practice. (A lot of time and practice, I might add.) I haven’t had any ravioli from a can in so long, I can’t remember when that stopped. And though I can actually imagine wanting such things (such as when I’m tired or sick), I probably wouldn’t buy them. I think the salt content alone would freak me out. I’m pretty much ruined for pre-made goods. I’ve spoiled myself with good food! Argh!

 

I guess if I really think about it, I was destined to learn how to cook. I remember standing by Granny Vera’s side and watching her make biscuits. The alchemy she practiced with flour, lard and buttermilk was astounding. And it worked every time. I never saw her measure a thing and yet those biscuits never disappointed.

 

Studying Granny Vera’s process hasn’t led to my being able to make her awesome biscuits. But I can make a mean Beef Wellington. So I must’ve learned something, somewhere along the line. And for that  I’m grateful.

The Olden Days

 

 

I’ve been going through old photos for a project and it’s been fun. More than simple nostalgia, I’ve been experiencing wonder while studying the photos of yore. It’s fairly amazing to think about the changes that have occurred in my lifetime alone. Technologically, politically, environmentally – it’s fascinating.

 

When I was a wee lass, for some reason it occurred to me to think about the changes my great-grandmother had lived to see. Granny Vera was one of the loves of my life, so I was enamored with everything about her. Imagining her history was one such thing. For example, when she came into the world, her family didn’t yet own an automobile, though they did acquire one when she was still a girl – they needed it to run moonshine. As a child, Granny Vera’s family used an ice box to keep food from perishing. Not an electric ice box, mind you, but a great big box that held a hunk of ice. That was it. She witnessed the advent and installation of electric lights, indoor plumbing, party-line telephones, automatic washing machines, talking movies, television and lord knows what else.

 

All the things Granny Vera saw birthed are commonplace for me. But I can point to – in my own lifetime – the rise of personal computers, the interwebs, cell phones, space travel, digital cameras and lord knows what else, too. And, like Granny Vera, I live with these things, seldom thinking of having been without.

 

But once in a while, like when looking through old photos and documents, I am reminded of the olden days. How we used film cameras and how we sent letters. How the only way we received world news was on the 6 o’clock national broadcast. Or from an actual newspaper. And during those recollections, I feel close to Granny Vera.

 

I also feel close to her when I sit outside in the shade on a hot day, cooling myself with a hand-held paper fan I picked up somewhere along the way, watching the occasional car drive past and listening to the sounds of summer. At those moments, I can almost see Granny Vera sitting beside me. Quietly taking it all in, having already witnessed the changing of the world. Maybe it’s true what they say. Perhaps the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Old

 

 

 

Recently I helped prepare dinner for women and children living in a transitional home in Los Angeles. These women come from every imaginable background, every imaginable circumstance. A particular group of volunteers – a group I’ve fallen in with – provide home-cooked food for this home once a month and it is greatly appreciated.

 

I had taken the food I’d prepared in a foil tray. In case there were leftovers, I wanted to be able to leave the food there without worrying about my dish. As the foil tray wasn’t the most sturdy, it was placed on one of my old cookie sheets – for support. I’ve had that cookie sheet over 25 years. It isn’t the prettiest kitchen goo-gaw, I admit. But it has supported far more than charitable goods through the years. It has held sweets and savories alike, and though it’s old and – I’ll just say it – ugly, it shows up when called upon.

 

Anyhoo – at the evening’s end, one of the volunteers turned to me and said, “You don’t want that cookie sheet back, do you?” I suppose she thought it was too pitiful to be of any future use. I think I must’ve looked at her like she’d sprouted an arm out of her neck. I said, “I absolutely do want that cookie sheet.” I picked it up and held it close, lest anyone think it was up for grabs. I was holding it close in the car, as we made our way back to our original meeting point. I kept it on the seat beside me as I drove home. Once there, I washed it and put it away – right next to the newer cookie sheets, where it waits until needed again.

 

I desperately wish I had some of Granny Vera’s old cooking gear. How I would love to think of her each time a particular skillet or chipped china cup might be pulled from a cabinet. But I have nothing from Granny’s kitchen. Aside from a few photos, I have nothing of Granny.

 

So my old gear will have to do. Lucky for me, it does quite well.

Magic Elixir

 

 

This is my new espresso maker. Mister got it for me and it’s one of those gifts that I love as much as air.

 

It reminds me of my Granny Vera’s old stove-top coffee percolator. I remember her adding the water and the coffee to that dented metal device, and then waiting. It would just sit there, taking its sweet time. And then there was coffee. Once in a great while, she and Big Papa would let me have a little coffee at breakfast. The cup placed before me would run over into the saucer beneath, just like Papa’s. Only my magic elixir was mostly milk and sugar.

 

I’ve missed that percolator over the years. And while I could have gotten a brand new version, it was Granny’s beaten-up model that stood out in my mind. So when Mister got this Italian-made, shiny goo-gaw for me, I didn’t compare or complain. In fact, I’m so smitten with the danged thang, I’m wondering how I’ve managed to get along without it thus far. It’s fantastic.

 

Now mornings find me adding water and coffee to the smooth, silvery device, and waiting. It sits there, taking its sweet time. And then there is coffee. I fill my cup, add some half and half, and savor. Once in a great while, I’ll stir in a little sugar – for old times. So far, each batch has put me in mind of Granny and Papa. That alone is a tremendous gift and I’m incredibly grateful to Mister for bestowing that upon me. The coffee’s damned good, too.

Miss Vera

 

 

On this date in 1907, Vera Owen Bridges was born. She would become a mother 21 years later. Many, many years after that, she would become a great-grandmother. My great-grandmother.

 

All my memories portray her as an old woman. Honestly, I don’t recall her having teeth, at least not during my lifetime. Her gray hair was kept short, though once in a while it reached a length that allowed her to twist it into a tight, little bun. Maybe that wasn’t an allowance. Maybe it was a hindrance. I’m not sure. I don’t recall her going to any beauty parlors (which is what she would have called them), but I do remember her applying a blueish tint to her fine, thin hair. And that took place in her old kitchen.

 

Actually, a lot took place in that old kitchen. Biscuits were baked. Catfish was fried. Gravy was stirred. More meals than I could ever recall were eaten at the kitchen’s old wooden table, its aged oil-cloth cover sticky and cracked. There was no formal dining room, but that table held more class and grace than most.

 

Granny Vera told me stories of being the daughter of a moon-shiner. How her father had taught her to drive an old truck so that she could deliver the liquor to his customers. The thinking was that if she ever got caught, she wouldn’t go to jail – being an underage girl. On the other hand, if her father or older brother had been busted, jail would have definitely been in the cards. So young Vera did as she was told and learned to drive a truck with a manual transmission and no power anything – steering, brakes or otherwise. When I drive around in my old Volvo – named after Granny Vera – I think of her each time I work hard to crank that steering wheel. And no matter how hard it gets, I think to myself that if Granny could do it, I can, too. Especially since my car has never once been loaded down with the weight of illegal hooch.

 

I suppose the drinking began when she was a young girl, but I have no proof of that. I know she met Eugene Bridges – Big Papa – at a juke joint in Georgia where she liked to go and dance. I’m fairly certain her drinking continued there. And after.

 

By the time I met her, and really grew to know her, she was sneaking her drinks. The family had decided she shouldn’t be drinking anymore. Maybe they knew something I didn’t. I mean, there were times when it seemed to my young eyes that she was probably drunk. And those times were fun. Granny never stopped enjoying dancing, and I have specific memories of dancing with her in her front yard, bare feet and hard red dirt. She danced with abandon, which only served to encourage my own flailing limbs and crazy rhythm. For Granny, it was about fun. For me, that meant the world.

 

There were, of course, times when she was none too happy with me. That was to be expected. I was, after all, a kid. But even during those few tense times, like when she hurled a giant wooden bowl at my head (and missed), the scenes ended in laughter. Those times, too, meant the world to me.

 

Granny Vera outlived Big Papa by fourteen years. She even made it to see the year 2000. I like to think she held on, just to see what might be new around that monumental corner. She was a few months shy of her 93rd birthday.

 

As I’ve said, I never knew Granny Vera as anything but old. But the kicker is that she was perhaps the youngest adult I shall ever meet. Her jokes, her curiosity, her laughter, her stories – all were aspects of a young-at-heart gal who enjoyed life and did her best to live it. She was cash-poor every day of her life. And yet somehow, she taught me to be joyfully rich. I will love her right through my last breath.

 

Happy Birthday, Granny. Today I dance in your honor.

Biscuits

 

 

A few days ago I made biscuits from a Pioneer Woman recipe (link is here). P-Dubs used sharp cheddar cheese in her recipe, but I had some smoked cheddar on hand and used that instead. And while I’m thinking about it, can I say how much I love smoked cheddar cheese? I love it so much, I’m thinking it may be an answer to many of life’s questions. I’m just sayin’.

 

Anyhoo, any time I make biscuits, I think of my great-grandmother – Granny Vera. I must’ve stood by her side about a jillion times, watching her make her biscuits. She’d dip a bowl into her metal flour bucket, then she’d dip her hand into her gi-normous tin of lard. Yes, lard. If she had buttermilk, she’d splash some of that in and mix it all by hand. More often than not, she’d just add water, as buttermilk was too dear. I can’t recall ever seeing her add any other ingredients, and the woman never measured a darned thing. And yet Granny’s biscuits stood out from the southern crowd. Those simple components somehow came together, under Granny’s cataract-laden eyes, to form one of my favorite childhood food memories.

 

I’ve tried and I’ve tried to replicate Granny’s biscuits. And I’ve failed and I’ve failed. So I try other recipes. No, the resulting biscuits will never be the same as Granny’s. The memories will have to do. And that’s okay. And the verdict on those Pioneer Woman biscuits? They may be my new favoritest. Then again, that could just be the smoked cheddar cheese, providing me with an answer to one of life’s questions. I’ve no idea which one.