Don’t Spin Your Greens, Granny!

greens 2

When you live in the South and visit old folks in the country, the first thing you have to do is admire their garden. If you run out of excuses, you’ll come home with a “mess of greens.” I hate dealing with greens. For the unenlightened, greens include turnips, collards, or mustard greens. Boiled down low, with a bit of pork, and garnished with a splash of “pepper sauce,” greens make a delicious meal. A true connoisseur polishes off by sopping up the juice, or pot-liquor with cornbread. If you’re above the Mason-Dixon Line, try a roll. That’s the happy ending.

Now, we get down to the nitty gritty, literally. Greens have to be “looked and washed.” The first step is dispossessing the wildlife who habituate greens. Nobody wants to find half a worm or a cluster of bug eggs in their pot-liquor. You have to give both sides of each rumpled leaf a good look, wash, and then rinse copiously. I’d heard the glorious news that greens could be washed in the washing machine, cutting down tremendously on prep time.

The next time Bud visited an elderly family member, he came back wagging a bag of greens. I didn’t moan like normal, having recently heard the good news that greens could be washed in the washing machine. As usual, the basic information registered, not the total technique. I loaded the washer with dirty greens and detergent and hit the start button. Quite a while later, the alarm sounded, and I went to retrieve my sparkling greens. Alas, no greens remained, just a few tough stems and a few bits of leaves. A follow-up conversation with my friend revealed that I should have only washed them on gentle and not continue on to spend.

Though I hoped he’d forget, Bud came in that night expecting greens. I feigned innocence. “What greens?” It didn’t fly. “The greens I brought in yesterday.” It’s hard to come up with an excuse how precious greens went missing. I gave up and told the truth, though I don’t like worrying Bud stuff with that gets his blood pressure up. I’m considerate that way.

“They went down the drain.”

“How in the Hell did they go down the drain?” I don’t know why he gets all up in my housekeeping and cooking business. “

“They just did. Now don’t keep asking nosy questions!” “

“Exactly what drain and how did that happen?” “

“The washing machine drain.” I

I hoped if I answered matter-of-factly, he’d move on. I didn’t work. “

“You put greens in the washing machine? What in the Hell were you thinking?” I

I hate it when he apes back what I’ve just said. I’ve told him it gets on my nerves. “It takes forever to look and wash greens. Jenny told me she puts hers in the washer and it works great. I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to put them through spin.”

“Grouch, grouch, grouch @^%&( , #@$%! Don’t ever put )(^%&# greens in the washer, again!”

“Okay, okay. Don’t go on forever about it. I get tired of your nagging” Since then I’ve been careful not to spin them. It works great.


Queen Envy

My mother, Kathleen, has suffered from Royalty Envy her entire life. First of all, Princess Elizabeth was born two years ahead of Kathleen, giving her an unfair advantage. Seeing Princess Elizabeth featured in magazines and newsreels in gorgeous dresses surrounded by her retinue fascinated and frustrated her. Clearly the young royal had done no more than she to deserve this sumptuous life. To add insult to injury, Princess Elizabeth had beautifully curled hair. Kathleen suspected it was a much coveted permanent wave.

One or two fortunate girls of Kathleen’s acquaintance prissed about haughtily showing off their permanent waves. Kathleen knew every penny in her household had a purpose, so it never occurred to her to mention her yearning for a permanent wave. Periodically, her older sister curled her hair with rag curlers, but those curls paled beside the beauty of a permanent wave. Even worse, Princess Elizabeth’s hair might have been naturally curly. What cruel accident of birth would bestow curly hair upon a royal child and condemn Kathleen, a tow-headed, child of American The Great Depression, to struggle through at least ninety-four years of lanky, string-straight locks.

Kathleen avidly poured over any mention of Princess Elizabeth in newsreels, news papers, and magazines, alternately admiring and envying the girl unaware of her existence. Every time she visited to outhouse, she read and reread a magazine article about the princesses, fully aware Princess Elizabeth wasn’t reading about her in her dainty water closet.

Kathleen excelled at the tiny school in Cuthand,Texas, sometimes helping her janitor father clean after school, aware that Princess Elizabeth was educated by governesses, later attending the finest private schools. While the princess attended soirees, Kathleen picked beans, fed chickens, and gathered eggs. There was definitely nothing privileged about her rural life.

As time passed, Kathleen had less time to devote to her rival who was now queen, though she noted with satisfaction her own children were more handsome and probably smarter. She was a bit critical of the queen’s style; too many pastels and over-large hats., though it seems she would have been pleased that something that obscured the queen’s curly hair.

Some things never change. I mentioned the other day the queen might be schmoozing with the heavenly hosts right now since she’d beaten Mother to Heaven. Mother remarked snidely, “You don’t know that for sure, do you?”

I knew she’d say that!

The Girls Part Two

Betty didn’t consider herself a problem at all.  While her girls discussed her problems, she was having a fine time at lunch with Alan, Barbara’s ex.  Truth be told, she’d always gotten along better with him than with Barbara.  “Alan, I sure wish you and Barbara could work things out and get back together.  All couples have their little problems.  Barbara needs to get Betsy back here where we can spend time with her.  I really miss that girl.  She used to spend every Saturday night with me.  I know this is not my business, but is there anybody else?”  Betty clearly looked on Alan as a son.

“Oh no, Miss Betty.  There’s never been anybody but Barb for me.  I wish we could work things out.  I’d love to get my family back together.”  Alan brushed things over, trying to dodge a bullet.  He flagged the waiter.  “Can you get me and my date some cheesecake and coffee?  Miss Betty, do you still like the strawberry?  This place had the best strawberry cheesecake!”

“I sure do!  I ought not to have it, though.  My scales might tell on me.” Betty never seriously considered skipping dessert.

“Don’t talk like that.  I don’t get you to myself that often.  You know you’re the prettiest girl here.”  Alan grinned.

A woman in a yellow pantsuit stopped by their table.  “Well, Betty.  How in the world are you?  I haven’t seen you since you retired.  I’ve been meaning to call you, but I’ve been so busy.  All of us aren’t lucky enough to retire early like you.  I sure miss seeing you every day.  Let’s try to get together next week for lunch.  Maybe I can bring Marla if we can get off together.” She waited expectantly for Betty’s answer.

“Who’s Marla?”

“You know Marla worked with us for over twenty years.  That’s funny, Betty.”  The woman in yellow waved and went on her way.  “Call me, Betty.”

“Who was that?” Alan asked.  He was surprised Betty hadn’t introduced them.

“Uh, just somebody I used to know.  She always did talk too much.”  Betty looked disturbed and pushed her coffee back.  “I need to get home.”  She and Alan walked out together.

“It’s been so nice seeing you.  I’ve missed you.  Bring Betsy by when you can.”

Update on Mother


I have been AWOL for a while due to some family situations, so I have some updating to do.  First of all, I’ve always posted a lot about Mother.  She is fine at ninety-two.  We avoid getting out because of corona virus, so it was a treat to go blueberry picking a few days ago. We only saw a couple of other pickers far afield, as happy to avoid contact as we were.

The sky was a pure, crystal blue and mountainous, cottony white-clouds transformed above us.  Had I been nimble as a five-year-old, I would have stretched out in the grass watching clouds change from horses to gnomes, to a covered wagons. Six decades certainly interferes with the pleasure of prolonged cloud performance.  A slight breeze brought welcome comfort in the Louisiana heat as we lounged with lemonade at a picnic table shaded by a giant oak.

I do believe this cloud was working up to the Pillsbury Dough Boy.



Mother still works in her yard almost every day.  She  comes from long-lived stock.  Her grandfather lived to ninety-six, before succumbing to stubbornness.  He might still be with us otherwise. He had a numb leg from a Civil War injury. An iron bedstead did him in when he hung a toe on his iron bedstead heading outdoors to the toilet, tripping  and cracking his head..  A brain bleed did him in four days later.

Uncle Albutt Part 5

Quite often, our family and friends would gather for a late evening meal.  While the kids ran wild in the dusk and on into the darkness, the women prepared a filling meal of beef stew or chili and cornbread.  It would be near bedtime by the time they called us in, hysterical  with chasing each other in and out of the darkness.  Of course we’d been warned against running in the dark, but staying in range of the lights was for sissies.  I’d be in a delicious frenzy of terror till I stepped back into the light, where all horrors vanished.   They would be so many kids we’d be settled on the floor with our supper in a pie or cake pan.  This was before budgets stretched to include paper plates.  It was an honor to sit on the floor with the big kids.  Babies and toddlers sat at the tables where their mamas could keep a grip on them.  Two or three dinners were always dumped on the floor and there was squalling a’plenty as mamas cleaned up the mess and resettled the messy kids.  The kids finished in short order and tore back outdoors while the adults took their turn at the

After the meal, it wasn’t unusual for the men to load up their guns, flashlights, thermoses of coffee, and the dogs for a night of hunting, leaving the women and children to visit.  Mamas gave their kids a cursory wipedown with a washcloth before bed, since it wouldn’t have been possible to bathe that many children and settled them on pallets on the floor, sometimes as many as six to the bed.  Mamas rocked the knee babies and lap babies to sleep before putting them on a bed flanked by pillows once the settling down started, the women started their stories.  I loved these nights, especially if Mawmaw was there.  She believed in ghosts and could make our blood run cold.  Mother worried about nightmares, but lacked the courage to shush her mother-in-law, for which I was grateful.  I NEEDED those stories. Mawmaw thrilled us with tales of babies buried alive, girls who died of broken hearts when their dead sweethearts appeared to them, and big black ghost dog, and ball lightning rolling through the house. The kids didn’t dare move off the pallet, they were so terrified. Fatigued by their play, finally they drifted off to sleep, one by one.

As the women talked, they thought they heard an intruder trying to get in the front door. Someone else scurried to check the back door, unsure if it was locked.  .  Had there been an intruder, he’d have had a horrible shock breaking in on half a dozen  terrified women and a gaggle of children.  Meanwhile Mother hurried to the door.  Thinking she’d scare him away with a bluff, she called out.  “I’ve got a gun.  I’m gonna shoot through the door!”

Aunt Jewel stood right behind her.  Obviously terrified, she shouted out.  “Well, don’t just stand there!  Go git your gun.  You ain’t got no gun!”  Fortunately, there was no intruder, or he thought he’d better not break in, since nothing happened.


A Hog a Day 12

Church was a trial for me. Daddy marched us into third pew from the front on the right side of church. He’d stomped out any hope of back- row giggling long before. I did look longingly at the lucky, wicked girls happily ensconced there, but had learned not to even ask to sit with a friend. We always filed in and took our seats in the same order. Daddy was first with Billy sandwiched between him and Mother. Mother held a baby on her lap. I was in easy reach next to Mother, with Phyllis and Connie, a toddler next to me. Sometimes during the service, Mother and Phyllis exchanged charges.

Phyllis, an adolescent, was the model of propriety, the darling of Sunday School teachers and choir directors. She’d have crawled to church on her hands and knees and sung a solo every Sunday if they’d let her. I compared poorly. Every Sunday I offered up excuses to avoid church. “My stomach hurts. I have an earache. I can’t find my shoes.” That last one was probably true! Billy and I could be depended upon to misbehave if allowed to sit together.

In preparation for the Sunday show, Mother spent endless hours sewing, starching, and ironing frilly dresses for us to show off at church. To ensure total misery, on Saturday night, she clamped me between her knees and twisted my fine hair into tight pin curls as I whined and wiggled. Invariably, she expressed the hope the some day I’d have fifteen girls with straight hair. Ironically, I have one daughter with curls. As final punishment, Mother wrapped my head in a scarf, and made me sleep on those damnable pins. Come morning, I was transformed into a kinky-headed mess in a Shirley Temple nightmare of a dress. I hated it.

The enforced quiet of church sermons was endless. In the days before ADD, I was BAD. My parents didn’t believe in providing distractions for restless children during church, offering up pre-sermon threats and terrifying looks, instead. I completely understood what was waiting at home if I messed up, so I passed the time manufacturing silent distractions.

Mr. Rose and Miss Bessie sat on the pew directly in front of us. He wore ancient gabardine suits with wide ties. He drifted off to sleep as soon as the preaching and his gastric system relaxed. Soon he regaled the congregation with a symphony of flabby farts. Poor Miss Bessie elbowed him to keep him awake and silent, but was no match for his system. It was a fascinating show, made all the more thrilling, since I was supposed to ignore it. How can you not notice farting in church?


Hair of the Dog Sweater

This is the prequal to yesterday’s post about dog sweaters.  I decided it might go nicely today.

My son John lives to torment my mother. Buzzy, our American Eskimo Dog sheds incessantly, making us vacuum every day to stay ahead of him. One day my husband Bud noticed a big paper bag on the mantle stuffed full of Buzzy’s combings, hair pulled from his brush, and hair swept from the floor. Amazed, Bud asked, “What in the world is this bag of dog hair doing up here?”

Mother chimed in, “Oh, that’s Buzzy’s hair I saved up for your sweater.” This was the first Bud had heard of his dog hair sweater. He thought maybe Mother had finally come unhinged. “What dog hair sweater?”

“The one you’re going to get the woman at work to make for you out of Buzzy’s hair.” Mother thought Bud was losing it. “John told me to be careful to gather up all the hair I could find every time I came over so that woman you work with can spin it and make it into a sweater for you. How long do you think it will take to get enough?”

Poor Bud had to break her heart. “John’s been pulling your leg, again. There ain’t gonna be no dog hair sweater.”



My son, John

John as Jason


The Girls Part One

“I’m worried.  Mama’s getting worse. She got turned around in the grocery store last week and panicked when she couldn’t find me.  She told the manager her little girl was lost.  I heard them paging me and hurried to the front and she was crying like a baby. ” Louanne’s eyes filled with tears as she fidgeted in the high bistro chair. Her spoon clattered as she stirred sugar in her coffee. The sun streaming through the cafe windows highlighted her blue-veined fair skin. “Mama’s been trading there forty years! We’re going to have to do something.  She can’t stay by herself.  I’d take her home with me but I just can’t. I was ashamed to tell you, with y’all both doing so well,  but me and  Robert had to get his mama to go in with us on the house or we couldn’t have ever gotten it.  Then he up and died.  It was taking both our paychecks and Mama M’s check to make the note.  Me and the baby are sleeping in my room, the boys in another, and Mama M in the third. When we got down to just mine and Mama M’s checks we couldn’t make it without me going on night shift. She’s having to watch the kids at night now because I can’t pay a babysitter. It’s more than she bargained for and she is not happy about it. We’re stuck together, like it or not.  The house is half hers and you know her and Mama don’t get along.   I can check on Mama on my days off, but I’ve about got all I can handle. I’d give anything if Mama had kept her house so me and the kids could’ve just moved in with her.” Tears spilled down Louanne’s pale cheeks. “I’m sorry to dump all this on y’all but I’m about at the end of my rope.”

Betty Murrell’s three daughters had gotten together at Bonnie’s Bistro to discuss what to do about Mama who was showing some confusion lately. Louanne, the youngest, lived just a few miles from their mother Betty. At twenty-nine, she’d always had a hard row to hoe. She’d gotten pregnant her senior year, and married Robert Martin just weeks before the baby was born.  Robert was a good fellow, but had a hard time hanging on to a job.  He’d finally gotten on as a long-haul trucker just before their third was born.  Delighted their future looked secure, they finally got enough pulled enough together to buy a house once his mama agreed to sell her house and throw in with them. With his truck-driving pay, Louanne’s job as a dispatcher on the police force, and Mama’s social security check, they were squeaking by.  Mama M made the down payment with proceeds from the sale of her little house.  They managed pretty well till the company Robert worked for went under. Desperate, he started a yard service, working from dawn till dark six days a week.  They could no longer afford the luxury of health insurance with his job loss. Having  lost his health benefits, he didn’t see his doctor or check his sugar like he should’ve and stroked before long.  Of course, he had no life insurance.  Neither Louanne nor Mama M would have chosen to live together without him, but neither could afford to buy the other out.  Louanne had to take a night shift for the higher pay, and Mama M grudgingly watched the kids from seven in the evening till Louanne got off in the morning.  Louanne took all the extra shifts she could, but it was still rough, especially with Robert’s medical bills hanging over her. Every month, she worried the lights would be cut off.  It was a miserable situation.  She felt guilty living with Robert’s mama when she needed to make a place for her own, but it wasn’t her choice. Mama M. had as much claim to the house as she did. Louanne’s nerves were strung tight and she was always on the verge of tears.

Barbara, the worried-looking middle daughter, squeezed Louanne’s hand and spoke. “I’ve been thinking Mama isn’t just right for a while. Seems like she’s done some odd stuff the last year or so.  I couldn’t believe it when she just up and sold the house and moved into that dinky apartment.  I never saw that coming, the way she loved working in her flowers and yard. Remember the way she painted the house inside and out, every two years. Then she just quit her job on a whim after being a nursing supervisor for years.  That story about being sick of it just didn’t hold water.  She never missed a day! Mama’s not but fifty-eight. She always planned to work till she was sixty-five. And remember last Thanksgiving when she put dinner on the table, then sat down to eat without calling any of us to come to the table! That was really weird.”

Barbara had recently moved over sixty miles away to Middlesex where she was a high-school principal.  She was divorced with a fifteen-year-old daughter.  She hadn’t told  her family that when she and Alan split, they were so deep in debt from his gambling, they’d had to file bankruptcy.  Barb and Betsy had moved into a two-bedroom apartment, a real stepdown from the house with a pool in a gated community they’d lost.  She’d only learned the extent of Alan’s gambling when it was too late to salvage anything. Betsy was making Barb pay for the move, blaming the available parent for having to leave her friends and school. Alan had always indulged Betsy and was letting Barbara bear the blame for their breakup.

As she collected her thoughts, Barbara shifted in her chair and dug in her purse for her lip balm. She sighed. “I guess I could try to figure out a way to move Mama in, but it’ll take me a little while to find a bigger place.  I just signed a new lease, so I am stuck for five more months. Mama keeps asking me about Alan.  She forgets why I left him and goes on and on about how much she thought of him. That’s pretty hard to listen to.  Vanessa, if you could meet me me halfway in Brewster on Fridays and Sundays, I could take her on weekends. Maybe Mama has enough stuck back to hire some help till I can move, but I’ll still be at school all day, after that.  I have ten more years till retirement and I can’t afford to take an hour off work.  Betsy is doing all she can to make things harder. I couldn’t depend on her to help with Mama. Vanessa, you don’t work and have an extra bedroom.   I don’t guess you could take her during the week, could you?”

Vanessa spoke up quickly.  “Oh, no.  You know how bad Mama and Joe fight.  It would never work.  I can try to get Jessie Ruth, Joe’s sister to stay with her.  Joe’s been having to help Jessie Ruth anyway since she lost her sitting  job with Mrs. Barker.  She can’t make it just on social security.  It’s about to break us.”  Vanessa, the elder sister was very active in her church, and better off financially than either of her sisters.  She knew a lot about what was best for other folks, a habit that ruffled feathers.  She was exceedingly proud that her husband,Joe, owned a construction company, though not as proud as he.  Joe was known to be a difficult man, at home and in business.

Barbara jumped back in before Vanessa got off too deep into her Jessie Ruth plan.  “That won’t work.  Mama can’t stand Jessie Ruth.  That woman’s always preaching at her and wanting to drag her off to that weird church of hers. Mama’s always gone to Cypress Baptist and doesn’t need another church.  She will not want Jessie Ruth in her business!”

Louanne backed her up.  “Look, Vanessa, the last thing Mama needs is Jessie Ruth! Did you ever think there might be a good reason she lost that job? That woman’s a mess.  Jenny Barker said she robbed her mama blind when she was staying with her.  Robbie Murphy down at Kroger said when she was checking out her groceries that Jessie Ruth had filled Mrs. Barker’s cart up with pork chops, chips, ice cream, and soda, stuff that Mrs. Barker didn’t eat.  The whole time Mrs. Barker kept fussing and Jessie Ruth kept right on piling it on the counter.  Jenny said her mama’s grocery bill just about doubled when Jessie Ruth was taking care of her.  Robbie tipped Jenny off and they got rid of her.”

”Now, I know that’s not true.  Jessie Ruth’s a fine Christian woman.  She wouldn’t steal!”  Vanessa bristled at this accusation against her husband’s sister.  “You better not be saying stuff like that to Joe!”

“I don’t intend to talk to Joe about that or anything else. You know we don’t gee-haw!” Louanne spouted. Vanessa and Joe had tried to tell her how run her business after Robert died. She still didn’t have a lot to do with him.

Barbara tried to smooth things over.  “Look, we’re all worried.  Let’s just wait and hear what Mama’s doctor says.  Maybe there’s something he can give her.”

Vanessa irritably summoned the server. “You need to take the pie off my check, Hon. I told you I wanted vanilla ice cream, not whipped cream.” The dismayed server looked at the half-eaten pie, knowing it would come out of her pay.

“That’s okay. I got this.”Louanne said empathetically as she scooped up Vanessa’s ticket, though she really couldn’t afford her own portion.0

“No, you don’t!” said Barbara. “My treat.”  She wasn’t about to worry Louanne with her own troubles.

Louanne gave her a quick hug. “Thanks, Sissy.”

“You ought not to pay for an order that girl messed up,” Vanessa grumped.

Happy Ninetieth Birthday

I had the pleasure of hosting Mother’s ninetieth birthday party Saturday May, 5th.  My mother’s only first cousin brought her an unusual gift, their grandmother’s hat.  Above, you can see Mother wearing it.  I looks kind of like a cow patty.  It must have been intended to be perched on a bun, since it is so small.  Mother said one of her earliest memories is of her grandmother in that small hat.

Here Mother is pictured with her five children.  Below my grandchildren make the acquaintance   of a lizard.  Don’t worry.  The lizard was unharmed.



Below, My granddaughter is investigating some yard art in my backyard.  I wish these cousins could play together every day, but they live across the country from each other.

Just love these images of little guys having fun.


Kathleen Swain in her new birthday hat, complete with tags