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Trimming the Thanksgiving Trees

“Trimming the Thanksgiving Trees” may sound like a strange title since we most often think of trimming a Christmas tree, not something called a Thanksgiving Tree. And truthfully, this is just a term I assigned to a couple of trees in our front yard years ago. Keep reading, please. You will soon see why I did so.

I just watched the local tv news and they were covering a 10K race called “The Turkey Trot” that takes place every Thanksgiving morning in our area. In particular, the reporter was talking to a family that participates yearly and it has become a necessary ingredient to their Thanksgiving Day celebration. Though there are a lot of commonalities that dominant our concept of what Thanksgiving really is, we all seem to bring personal touches to the table as we endeavor to take ownership of it and makes it ours individually. It may be certain foods, certain people, activities, and a variety of other elements. (more…)

Aunt Ozie and Her Dress Form

In the popular television series Designing Women, Dixie Carter played Julia Sugarbaker, president of her interior design firm. Like Dixie herself her character was Southern through and through. Her character had some memorable quotes and this is one:

I’m saying this is the South. And we’re proud of our crazy people. We don’t hide them up in the attic. We bring ’em right down to the living room and show ’em off. See, Phyllis, no one in the South ever asks if you have crazy people in your family. They just ask what side they’re on.

So in this post I guess I am just showing off some “crazies”…though I prefer to use the term eclectic regarding my Aunt Ozie. My maternal grandmother mentioned here, is another story.

When the class sang “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go”, my mind drew upon Bob Ross-like “happy thoughts” of Aunt Ozie. She was childlike fun in an adult size package and married to Uncle Jeff. The word was that they never birthed any children because Uncle Jeff only had one of what most men have two.  Aunt Ozie loved children despite having none of her own and was extremely kind to those who had the privilege of spending time with her. Uncle Jeff was much more dry in his approach to kids but on many occasions I caught him snickering under his breath at something one of us had said or done. It was as if he didn’t want to express too much outwardly as it might give children ideas that they could pull something over on him. On the other hand Aunt Ozie, (pronounced Oh-Zee,short for Ozello), just let the fun rip.

sewing-machine-1789198_1920Great Aunt Ozie was my substitute for a grandmother. My paternal grandmother was deceased long before I was born and my maternal grandmother was estranged from our part of the family. This separation occurred when my mother married my father, one of the kindest and most ethical people who ever walked planet earth. However, that carried no weight in my grandmother’s eyes because He was a Baptist and that was enough to warrant estrangement. She was a member of  THE Christian Church and believed that every other denomination was hopelessly backslidden and destined for hell. This feud lasted until my adolescence.

At that time we began to visit my grandmother occasionally. Someone had taken the high road of some degree of reconciliation and I was sure it was my mother and father, not my grandmother. Most of our time visiting consisted of her keeping the television on and tuned to soap operas. Conversation was minimal. My Uncle John was also always there. He retired from a civil service job in Washington, DC and then moved back home and lived with his mother. After a major romance failed early in his life he became bitter toward people, especially women. If he spoke, it was usually something negative. What a happy little gathering…one of the few times in my life when boredom truly set in.

My grandmother’s demeanor was cold and she had a strange odor about her. She dipped snuff but also wore around her neck what was known as an acifidity bag. The bag itself was horrible to look upon, conjuring up images of shrunken heads, or perhaps the body part of some animal that had been turned into a container. The actual contents were worse, featuring a variety of roots and what smelled like a strong dose of manure. This was an old timey folk medicine that was suppose to keep sickness away. For sure, it could keep people WITH or WITHOUT sickness away so it may have worked! I got no closer to my grandmother than absolutely necessary. I considered her somewhat scary and felt no love from her. Aunt Ozie, on the other hand, was everything a child could want in a grandmother figure.

Like many people who weathered the Great Depression, Aunt Ozie was frugal.  If there was something she truly needed that she and Uncle Jeff could not make or engineer she did not hesitate to make  a purchase.  This, of course, was after considerable research and haggling over the price.  This process was always done with a smile and a warm handshake to consummate the deal.

On one occasion Aunt Ozie was interested in having a dress form in her size. She was an excellent seamstress and sewed most of the clothes that she and Uncle dressformlaceyJeff wore. She even made me a shirt for one of my birthdays. In that day it was not uncommon for people to buy 100 pound bags of flour not only for the flour but for the fabric that made up the bag. This was a good quality cotton textile, usually with unique designs. She selected cowboys and Indians for my shirt.

She always wore dresses so having a dress form would be beneficial to her sewing. She consulted the two most important books outside of the Bible that one could have in the home, catalogs from both J C Penney and Sears, Roebuck, and Company.

To order from a company’s catalog, normal protocol was to send in a printed document torn from the pages of the catalog that included the personal information and measurements of the one buying the dress form. The problem from Aunt Ozie’s perspective was that the price for the completed dress form was excessive in her eyes. In light of this, she and Uncle Jeff devised plans for a dress form of their own making.

Their intention was for Aunt Ozie to get naked on the bed and then Uncle Jeff would cover her front side with some sort of  “plaster”. She would remain in place until it hardened enough to be removed and then she would turn over and they would repeat the process on the back side. Once they finished Uncle Jeff would use his building expertise to put the two portions together on some type of stand. That part in itself could have caused some concern for me. Uncle Jeff built some houses and on one occasion I lived in one of them for a short while. I hung wallpaper in the kitchen but it did not come out straight because there was not a square corner or a plumb wall to be found.

Uncle Jeff mixed up a concoction that was later spoken of as plaster of Paris but what it actually was is likely lost to history as well as how long it actually took to accomplish. I read up some on normal plaster and it can cause bad burns so I know that is not what covered Aunt Ozie. Some family members suggested that she may have worn a thin layer of something between her skin and the plaster but it seems that would have defeated the purpose of having a form that matched her measurements.  There were no reports of any screaming or intense pain through the process so whatever it was, it worked. Aunt Ozie used it for years and I remember seeing garments that she was working on covering the dress form.

It was reported to me by a niece that the dress form resides in perpetuity, tucked away within a family attic.Frugality and innovation are a wonderful combination.

Coffee

batmanandwonderwomancups

Official her’s and his cups, This are larger than standard so are usually reserved for the weekends.

My wife and I start our day with a full pot of coffee and the morning news. By the time she leaves for work there is only enough left in the pot to fill her travel cup.

It’s a great way to start the day in my book, and though I do enjoy the coffee every day, there are some days when it tastes better. Who knows why this is so? Same coffee, same water, same pot yet something in the taste buds welcomes it more than other days.

Today it tastes very good. It’s much cooler here this morning with heavy rain and that probably has something to do with it. I don’t know why but it seems that even marginally cooler weather brings out the best in coffee. When the calendar changes and we move into Autumn and Winter, the warming aspect of coffee certainly is a bonus.

I grew up among coffee drinkers. When I was a child coffee was made from a percolator on the stove. Hot off the gas range, my daddy would often pour his coffee into a saucer, blow on it, and drink it while it was still smoking. I don’t guess that is proper etiquette and is not something he would ever do in a restaurant. However, we were at home and accepted. Many of us today drink out of mugs but in our household, it was always a cup and saucer for coffee. There is something especially pleasant about the clinking of china as cup meets saucer or as a spoon stirs the ingredients.

mastcup

My favorite coffee cup….Mast General Store. It has a faint hairline crack on the inside but not showing on the outside yet and not leaking. Nancy has a purple one. We bought them some years ago on the day after Thanksgiving at the store in Valle Crucis, NC.

I did not begin to drink coffee in earnest until I graduated from high school. Prior to that time though I would drink a cup on occasion. I particularly remember one encounter with a very hot cup of coffee. It was the last high school game of the season, a very cold November night. My Uncle Jack had brought me to the game as he did every Friday. At halftime I was really cold and went to the concession stand, deciding to get coffee…a very adult thing to do for an eighth grader. I paid for my coffee and they passed me the paper cup which was incredibly hot, likely the hottest I’d ever held but it felt really good to my cold hands. There was milk and sugar available on the counter so I took advantage. I poured in the condiments and reached for a plastic spoon to stir it up. I noted that the spoons were of the lightest plastic I had ever seen. When I stuck the spoon in the steaming hot coffee, it bent double, testifying to the excessive heat of the beverage. I stirred it as best I could with the now distorted spoon. It was several minutes before I could drink any of the coffee and even then it was short sips. I learned this when the first taste burned the tip of my tongue. Its primary purpose for a while was to serve as a hand warmer. I learned that I did not like excessively hot coffee but some people do. I am aware of people who take a freshly brewed cup of steaming coffee and put it in the microwave to make it even hotter. These days, I’m a somewhere between a normal hot and room temperature kind of a guy, but we all have different preferences.

My first wife passed in 2001 but I learned a great deal about coffee from her and her family who lived in the hill country of eastern Tennessee. I quickly discovered that coffee was available in the kitchen all day long. If at any point you drank the last cup it was your responsibility to make another pot. I also learned that though there was milk in the refrigerator and sugar in a bowl on the kitchen table, they did not use condiments for their coffee. They drank it black. I learned to do it too and now it’s actually my preference. Granted, it is an acquired taste. Occasionally, I do take the plunge into the land of sugar but overall it is black for me. I heard someone say that they drink their coffee black, “The way the Lord drinks His.” I don’t know who could speak with that authority but it is an interesting concept.

Of course, coffee is loved by many for the boost it gives us first thing in the morning. Most people avoid it at night not wanting it to disrupt sleep. However, I do whitecoffeecupremember that my first wife’s father never seemed to be affected by it, regardless of the time of day. I learned that from observation.

One night when we were visiting the family in Tennessee it was bedtime so the coffee pot was finally turned off from its hard day’s work. I saw my step-father Freeman Sexton who was well into his eighties, take the remainder of the coffee and pour it into a thermos. I asked my wife if her dad was going somewhere early in the morning. She asked why I posed that question. I told her what I saw her daddy do with the last of the coffee and that made me curious. She explained that if he got up during the night to go to the bathroom (which many of us older guys do), that he would take a drink of the leftover coffee just like many people get a drink of water! That my friends, was a hard core coffee drinker. Of course, you would kind of expect that from a man who tended an acre garden with only a hoe and split wood for the cooking stove every day….but that’s another story.

Mama and the Rooster

roosterIt happened a long time ago when I was a little boy. However, I recall it easily, especially since the story has been repeated numerous times at family gatherings. It is the kind of story that was best re-told while sitting around the dinner table when most of the damage had already been done to a great meal. There was usually an interim period after the meal and before my mother’s chocolate cake was cut, when stories would abound. And speaking of chocolate cake that delicious dessert was actually a bit of a catalyst that started the whole episode that became a story.

It was Saturday so my mother decided she would make a chocolate cake for dessert on Sunday. As she put together her ingredients she realized that she needed two more eggs. Wiping her hands on a kitchen towel, she headed out the backdoor toward the chicken coop, (more…)

Southern Hospitality

 frontporch What does it mean to be a Southerner? Certainly, there are many ways to define us and we can be a little complicated. After all, we have our little idiosyncrasies from state to state, even in different areas within our states. For instance, in my native North Carolina, we cook barbecue…not a general term for what you do with a grill or inclusive of all kinds of grilled or smoked meats. In North Carolina, native barbecue is always pork, cooked in a pit or smoker.  It is a specific dish, not just a style of cooking. There is a variance between the eastern part of the state and the western region about how the meat should be cared for after cooking. (more…)

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