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Yves Klein: October 1960

Yves Klein: October 1960

That’s the artist Yves Klein jumping off a building in the photograph above. Taken on October 19, 1960, the photograph is titled The Leap into the Void.  The first time Klein leapt, he broke an ankle. It’s my understanding that he considered that first jump—taken months before the October leap—the one that really counted. He jumped again to document the performance, and the second time there were people below holding a tarpaulin in which to catch him. He later created (or his photographers created) a photo montage that made him appear to fly.

I once tried to learn how to fake-levitate. I studied the Balducci method, which involves balancing on the toes of one foot, while the other foot, the one closest to your small, carefully positioned audience, is raised two or so inches off the floor. What the audience sees is a person who is no longer standing on the ground, and you must come down quickly so that they don’t have a chance to look too closely. I had understood that levitation was an illusion, but I was still disappointed, because I was the audience I wanted to convince. I couldn’t quite master the technique, anyway—I don’t have solid control over my toes.

I believe that a little low-level flying or floating would make up for a lot, and Yves Klein did, too. He was obsessed with levitation and floating. In fact, Rebecca Solnit writes about this in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. She says that Klein was obsessed with “flight, levitation, and immateriality as well as the sky and the color blue….”

Solnit adds, “[H]e seems never to have stopped being a child in some ways, spoiled, petulant, impatient with restrictions, but also festive, generous, playful, and imaginative.” I think it’s nice of her to include some of the positive characteristics of being a brat.

On his obsession with the color blue, Solnit writes: “In 1957, Yves Klein painted a globe his deep electric blue, and with this gesture it became a world without divisions between countries, between land and water, as though the earth itself had become sky….”

My favorite books feature characters who spend a lot of time alone (or nearly so) with the sea and sky: The Old Man and the Sea, The Life of Pi, Diary of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Ahab’s Wife. Again, it’s about floating.

Ernesto and I spent a lot of time floating in the Gulf of Mexico during our August vacation, even after his mother sent us a message warning of the possible presence of a deadly bacteria in the Gulf. The water was equal parts blue and gray, sometimes rough. We tried very hard to recreate the sound of the waves, but we always ended up sounding like windstorms or shushing librarians or static.

We were working on our surf-noises when the most amazing thing happened. At the same time, we both spotted a reddish, gold-tipped cylinder bobbing in the waves, heading toward us. “What’s that?” Ernesto asked, and I knew at once what it was, because I had been waiting for it my whole life. “It’s a cork in a bottle!” I said, and I raised my arms and danced toward it through the water as fast as I could, hoping that the message inside the bottle would still be legible.

It was not a cork in a bottle. It wasn’t even a cork without a bottle. It was an empty shotgun shell.

Klein died two years after The Leap into the Void, at the age of 34. “Though he was tragically young,” Solnit writes, “His life looks like a meteor, a shooting star, a complete trajectory across the sky, a finished work of art.”

I will never be compared to a streak of light across the sky; I have always been more moon than star. The proof is in my own Leap into the Void­-style photograph from the very same month and year as Klein’s: October 1960. Face, belly, matching knees: it’s as if milk-white moons aligned to create a child.

Daddy and me, October 1960.

Daddy and me:  October 1960.

Still, I believe that even at age one I was contemplating my own possible leap into the void. Certainly I was already floating—rather too close to the power lines, but still. And like the bottle I have always wanted to find in a deep blue sea, I carried a message that I am still trying to figure out how to deliver. Maybe all I need to do is gather my courage, bunch up my shirt, and fly.

IMG_1683

This is how I see it: All the barns, grains bins, and corncribs of Dorchester County broke faith with the red clay, hoisted up their porches, and sailed. The barns made their way cross-country, timbers creaking, drifted to this place where, once arrived, they stood shoulder to shoulder, stern, empty, and blind. Now they are settled on a warm counterpane of pine.

The writer John Simmons has said, “[C]onstraints can liberate your writing. They’re a creative stimulus.” He invented a constraint of his own, the sestude, a 62-word poem or prose piece. I needed a creative stimulus to come up with some sort of text for the photographs that I took of the Indian Field Campground in Dorchester County, South Carolina. There is no good way to describe the place, which was like nothing I had ever seen before. 

 I decided to try to write one sestude, and ended up with two. They don’t do justice to the campground, where 99 wooden structures encircle an open-sided worship pavilion called the Tabernacle. The camp meeting season is in October, when members live at the campground for a week, eat good Southern food cooked on wood stoves, visit with family and friends, and attend (or avoid) the frequent worship services in the Tabernacle. The gathering began in the 19th century as a way to celebrate the end of harvest and revive the faithful.

IMG_1684

Here’s the remainder of my own small harvest:

I watch clouds snap across the sky
Like white prayer flags
While some jackleg preacher,
Claiming to know what’s in my heart,
Reveals an awful lot about
His personal shortcomings,
And the limits of his own goodness.
Anyway.
We’ll sing a hymn, then disperse;
Return to campsites, none the worse,
And enjoy a bite of dinner.
I’m here for the fried chicken.

 

 

 

chicken (2)

Photo credit: My niece, Anna Singleton.

In May 2002, the Yale Program in Agrarian Studies hosted a conference about chickens:

The Program in Agrarian Studies is pleased to announce the international conference entitled The Chicken: Its Biological, Social, Cultural, and Industrial History from Neolithic Middens to McNuggets. The three-day conference will bring together over 75 scholars, agronomists, public intellectuals, chicken growers, workers, industry representatives and activists from the labor, farm, animal welfare, environmental, and public health movements, whose work has helped to define and to change what we know about chickens and their production and consumption.

o   Over 15 diverse panels and plenary sessions!
o   Food, films and documentaries!
o   Advocacy information and book tables!
o   Concurrent chicken-related exhibits at Sterling Memorial Library and
the Yale Art Gallery!

Isn’t that a charming description? It’s presented with such enthusiasm and so many exclamation points that I know it was a great success. I was proud to see North Carolina well-represented at the Chicken Conference, with experts from East Carolina University and NC State University making presentations. I didn’t read far enough to know who was speaking on the subject of the chicken in myth and literature, but I do know that Chanticleer and the Little Red Hen were on the agenda. And isn’t the idea of concurrent chicken-related exhibits interesting? That’s what inspired me to collect some exhibits of my own, because I have a fairly long history with chickens, myself.

In fact, I made my acting debut in first grade as the Little Red Hen, wearing a full-head mask made from a large brown-paper grocery sack. That was my earliest experience with chickens in literature, and it is nice that the Little Red Hen held the moral high ground in that story, because in general chickens don’t. A year earlier, as I helped my grandmother gather eggs from her little coop, I had tried to imitate her confidence and reach beneath a hen to extract her eggs. But before I could get my hand in position, the gimlet-eyed chicken in the nesting box coolly leaned forward and pecked me—hard!—on the upper lip.

I wasn’t permanently scarred by that experience, and when I was about 20 years old I got a summer job in a commercial hen house, collecting eggs for pay. I was better prepared this time around, with a tobacco stick that I could use to knock the roosters down if they became too confrontational, and an athletic sock with the toes cut out to wear on my arm for protection against henpecks. I went up one side, and then down the other of the long, low metal building, placing the eggs in large plastic flats that stacked on a sort of trolley that hung from an overhead track and could be pushed along as I went. It was a wonderful job. One morning I found a passel of newborn kittens in a nest. Then the weather got really hot, and the Grim Reaper reaped him a bunch of hens and not long after that the egg season was over.

Those commercial hens were large and white, and they pecked my athletic sock with a vicious little twist of their beaks when I reached under them to get their eggs. Our hens (as in the photo above) are approximately the color and size of footballs. They aren’t aggressive or angry, but they do sometimes raise their wings and hunker down, as if they are about to do something drastic and painful. It appears to be only a pose.

At the moment my chickens can do no wrong, because they have begun to lay eggs! The eggs are mostly small, although a few have been full-sized (and usually double-yolked). Because of this bounty, I am in a mood to salute the chicken—in literature and on the nest—with some odds and ends I scratched together.

1.  “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by William Carlos Williams. It is as simple and pure as a hard-boiled egg:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

2.  M.F.K. Fisher once said: “Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg before it is broken.” If you want to risk invading the privacy of an egg in a violent way, there is a trick that you can try. Place an egg in your hand and, holding your arm out straight, squeeze as hard as you possibly can. The physics of it is that as long as you keep your arm perfectly straight, you can squeeze until you’re red in the face and the egg won’t break. But if your elbow bends, even the slightest bit, the egg will explode and a great deal of egg yolk will go all over everything, including in places where you won’t find it for years. So if you want to try that particular trick my advice is to go outside and do it several yards away from the house.

3.  Speaking of tricks, here’s Flannery O’Connor: “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathe News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

4.  Apparently E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and The Once and Future King, had as much trouble with his flock as he had writing fiction: “I don’t know which is more discouraging,” he once said, “literature or chickens.”

I vote for literature, since at the moment I am happy with my chickens.

5.  And here is the pearl of my collection, from Love Among the Chickens by P. G. Wodehouse:

…I feel as if I should never move again. I have run faster and farther than I have done since I was at school. You have no conception of the difficulty of rounding up fowls and getting them safely to bed. Having no proper place to put them, we were obliged to stow some of them inside soap boxes and the rest in the basement. It has only just occurred to me that they ought to have had perches to roost on. It didn’t strike me before. I shall not mention it to Ukridge, or that indomitable man will start making some, and drag me into it, too. After all, a hen can rough it for one night, and if I did a stroke more work I should collapse. My idea was to do the thing on the slow but sure principle. That is to say, take each bird singly and carry it to bed. It would have taken some time, but there would have been no confusion. But you can imagine that that sort of thing would not appeal to Ukridge. There is a touch of the Napoleon about him. He likes his maneuvers to be daring and on a large scale. He said: ‘Open the yard gate and let the fowls come out into the open, then sail in and drive them in a mass through the back door into the basement.’ It was a great idea, but there was one fatal flaw in it. It didn’t allow for the hens scattering. We opened the gate, and out they all came like an audience coming out of a theater. Then we closed in on them to bring off the big drive. For about three seconds it looked as if we might do it. Then Bob, the hired man’s dog, an animal who likes to be in whatever’s going on, rushed out of the house into the middle of them, barking. There was a perfect stampede, and Heaven only knows where some of those fowls are now. There was one in particular, a large yellow bird, which, I should imagine, is nearing London by this time. The last I saw of it, it was navigating at the rate of knots, so to speak, in that direction, with Bob after it barking his hardest. Presently Bob came back, panting, having evidently given up the job. We, in the meantime, were chasing the rest of the birds all over the garden. The thing had now resolved itself into the course of action I had suggested originally, except that instead of collecting them quietly and at our leisure, we had to run miles for each one we captured. After a time we introduced some sort of system into it. Mrs. Ukridge (fancy him married; did you know?) stood at the door. We chased the hens and brought them in. Then as we put each through into the basement, she shut the door on it. We also arranged Ukridge’s soap-box coops in a row, and when we caught a fowl we put it into the coop and stuck a board in front of it. By these strenuous means we gathered in about two thirds of the lot. The rest are all over England. A few may be in Dorsetshire, but I should not like to bet on it.

So you see things are being managed on the up-to-date chicken farm on good, sound, Ukridge principles. This is only the beginning. I look with confidence for further exciting events. I believe, if Ukridge kept white mice, he would manage to knock some feverish excitement out of it. He is at present lying on the sofa, smoking one of his infernal brand of cigars.

From the basement I can hear faintly the murmur of innumerable fowls. We are a happy family; we are, we are, we ARE!

P. S. Have you ever caught a fowl and carried it to roost? You take it under the wings, and the feel of it sets one’s teeth on edge. It is a grisly experience. All the time you are carrying it, it makes faint protesting noises and struggles feebly to escape.

P. P. S. You know the opinion of Pythagoras respecting fowls. That ‘the soul of our granddam might haply inhabit a bird.’ I hope that yellow hen which Bob chased into the purple night is not the grandmamma of any friend of mine.

____________________________________

Note: I am deeply indebted to Chickens in Literature, my source for the Wodehouse excerpt and the Flannery O’Connor quote. The site also has amazing chicken illustrations. Go look for yourself, and enjoy a truly fabulous chicken-related exhibit.

In the meantime, here’s a peaceful picture of our very first eggs. Don’t they seem to glow?

Redbud eggs

Yes, it isn't pretty, but the crust is homemade.

Yes, it isn’t pretty, but the crust is homemade.

I decided to make a mincemeat pie for my dad for Father’s Day. He mentioned a little while back that he would like to have a mincemeat pie, something he hadn’t had in years. I said I’d never had one, ever, as far as I knew, and I forgot all about it.

Then, a week or two ago, I ordered a copy of The Farm, chef Ian Knauer’s cookbook and celebration of his family’s centuries-old farm in Pennsylvania. I forget exactly why I decided I wanted it, except that I had seen his cooking show on PBS once and enjoyed it.

The family farm he writes about (and gardens on) is a beautiful place. There’s a gigantic hydrangea with white blossoms that look good enough to eat, and a small pond and a meandering driveway and a family cemetery where the founding Knauer, Johann Christopher, is buried. He died in 1769, so obviously the white, two-story stucco farmhouse is not the original family home. Ian and his family in general seem to use the place as a getaway. It’s not clear who owns it, but Ian and his sisters have planted a large garden there, and he goes down for weekends and cooks for family and friends.

I was reading through the book and marking the recipes I wanted to try, when I came across a recipe for mincemeat pie. And that’s when I remembered my dad’s wish for one.

You would think that I would be beyond the homemade Father’s Day gift, but evidently I am not.

I am also aware that this is not the season for mincemeat pie. So what? Now that homes are air-conditioned, cooking things for hours on the stove is not that bad.

The pie appeared to be quite a project. Ian’s version had a mile-long list of ingredients and it made enough filling for four pies. He only had a recipe for making one bottom crust, though, so once you filled it you were encouraged to freeze the additional three quarts of filling until time to make another pie.

I decided to cut the recipe in half. I made my grocery list, and added the ingredients that I didn’t already have: suet, pineapple juice, apple cider, raisins and currants, ground beef, molasses, and apple cider vinegar. There. Friday night, and my list was in order.

I woke up on Saturday morning in a mild panic. Ian’s farm was in Pennsylvania, not North Carolina. I didn’t know where to find currants in the store—would they be in produce, or with the dried fruits? Did I have to use beef suet? What if this pie was not at all like the one my dad remembers? Shouldn’t it have a top crust?

I went to the Internet and looked up more recipes for mincemeat pie. Martha Stewart had one, but it was meanly hidden behind some sort of subscription requirement and you could only read bits of the recipe around the “Become a member now!” box, which floated as I tried to peek beneath it. But I saw everything I needed to see. One of the first instructions in the recipe was to “take down two jars of mincemeat filling from the shelf.” Really, Martha?

Alton Brown, I believe—after a while it’s difficult to say where I read what—offered the advice that butter could substitute for suet. Thank you.

Then I pulled down my grandma’s old cookbooks, thinking one of them might contain the recipe that she used for her pie. Her cookbooks are always fun to read through. She used to cut recipes out of the newspaper and tape them inside in open spaces and on the end pages and sometimes on pages with other recipes, like Martha’s floating subscription box. I bet she did that to cover up recipes she hated. I would.

I came across many wonderful things in those old cookbooks, including a recipe called “Do You Like Oyster Stew?” that didn’t have oysters in the list of ingredients, and then sprang them on the cook midway through the instructions, very casually: “Add 2 or 3 pints of oysters.” None of these old cookbooks, most of them church or community collections, seemed to have dependable, thorough instructions. But the recipe titles were priceless. “Granny Bell’s Chicken Slick” was my favorite in The Lizzie Sills Friends Circle cookbook. (In case you’re wondering, the “slick” refers to dumplings. Aren’t you a tiny bit relieved? I was.)

But in all the charming antique cookbooks that I consulted, there was no recipe for mincemeat pie. Perhaps it was already too old-fashioned to make the cut for Lizzie Sills, which included this paragraph on the copyright page (capitalized as in the original):

THIS BOOK includes the finest plastic ring binders available, BUT, like most plastics, the BINDERS CAN BE DAMAGED BY EXCESSIVE HEAT, so AVOID exposing them to the direct rays of the SUN, or excessive heat such as IN A CAR on a hot day, or on the top of the kitchen STOVE. If not exposed to heat, the binders will last indefinitely.

I don’t know why they didn’t put indefinitely in all caps, but maybe by the end of that passage there wasn’t enough oxygen left.

Since I didn’t find a recipe called “The Mincemeat Pie Your Father Fondly Remembers,” I went to the store with my list and bought what I needed to make half a recipe of Ian Knauer’s version. As I collected my ingredients and sent up a desperate prayer that I would find a good substitute for currants, the song “You Can Do Magic” came on over the Food Lion sound system. Excellent. I can do magic. I can make mincemeat pie. I can make it without currants.

And that’s what I did. It was hard to get started, because I was nervous, but I browned the beef in a little bit of butter, then removed it with a slotted spoon to a large, heavy pot. I put a pound and a half of raisins in the pot with enough dried cherries and cranberries to take up the space that currants would have occupied. I peeled and chopped apples, grated orange and lemon zest, decanted varying amounts of fruit juice, cider, cider vinegar, honey, and molasses; I added a half stick of butter. I sprinkled in salt and spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and ginger. With the heat turned up to bring it all to a boil, I took a large wooden spoon and began turning the mixture over.

That’s when the magic happened. Oh, the smell. It was like apple pie and Christmas. It was rich and spicy and dark and wonderful with the citrus zest sending up bright sparks. It simmered for about an hour, getting progressively thicker. I tasted it, and began to think that maybe I had eaten some of my grandmother’s mincemeat pie. An angel sang, softly, and not for very long.

I do hope that my pie comes close to Grandma’s. Because the whole point of making a mincemeat pie in June was to recreate a feeling and maybe provide at least a quick flashback to a yellow kitchen in a white house on a small farm in eastern North Carolina. Unlike Ian’s family, we can’t still visit that farm, and I’m seven miles removed from my parents’ farm, which also overlooks a pond. But Redbud farmlet is chugging along. Our chickens are now 12 weeks old and healthy, the goats are staying inside the corral and haven’t lost their collars, and the kale and squash are growing. When I step under the shelter where the tractor lives, the soft dirt underfoot and the shade and the smell of the old tractor make me feel like I’m back in my grandfather’s barn. In a way, the original Winslow family farm is still thriving—it’s just scattered around the state a little more than it once was.

I delivered the pie this morning right after going to church with my parents, where my dad won a gift certificate for being the father with the oldest child present. I bet I was also the oldest child who had made her father an ugly homemade gift. Best part: I can give him another one in December, because the frozen mincemeat keeps for six months. Boom.

Want a little homemade ice cream with your mincemeat pie on Father’s Day? Read this!

Lily

Lily

If we didn’t live venturously, plucking the wild goat by the beard, and trembling over precipices, we should never be depressed, I’ve no doubt; but already should be faded, fatalistic and aged. – Virginia Woolf

I take this quote to mean that living dangerously and teasing wild goats keeps you young. I have to take issue with that opinion, and would add that clearly V. Woolf has never known an actual goat. Because to pluck a wild goat by the beard would, it seems to me, be one of the more fatalistic moves one could make. I mean, there is living dangerously, and then there is plucking goats’ beards.

My parents’ next-door neighbor has been keeping small goats to eat underbrush at his place. The most recent candidate was a bit wild; he had a genius for escape and enjoyed roaming free between his home and my parents’ farm. The first time Ernesto and I saw him, he was grazing in a small field between the two properties. As we drove slowly past, I made a comment along the lines of, “There’s Bobby’s new goat, isn’t he cute?” The goat raised his head, and we both were both stunned. He was a little fellow, shaggy and white, but he had enormous horns and a black, stringy beard about a yard long. Ernesto said he was such a cartoon-character of a goat that he should be called Capricorn.

Several weeks later we had Easter lunch at the farm. My sister, Holli, and her crew had not yet arrived, but it was 2:00 and folks were getting restless and one nephew had to drive back to Chapel Hill to work, so we sat down at the dining-room table to get started. We sat in front of long windows that look out over the front of the house—the pond, the driveway, the field between the farm and the neighbors.

“Look, there’s a goat,” Robin said. It was Capricorn, heading up the driveway at a determined trot as if he were going home. We all watched and laughed as he trotted along, wondering what had riled him up.

About that time, Holli’s van pulled into the main driveway and began ambling toward the house. As we watched them bump slowly up the drive, the goat cut in front of their van, and veered right.

The van stopped. Then, instead of continuing to the farm, it turned left into the neighbor’s driveway.

“What are they doing?” I asked the table.

“Maybe they want to tell Bobby that his goat’s loose.” We all laughed again—the goat was never anything but loose.

A couple of minutes passed, and then the van came out of Bobby’s driveway and turned back onto the main road toward the house. It followed the winding drive, and just about the time it was in the home stretch, here came Capricorn, galloping toward the house as if racing the van.

He won, too—but of course the goat had taken the short cut across the front yard. He pulled up and stood stiff and trembling, glaring with yellow-eyed hatred at the van as four people and two dogs disembarked.

“Wow, he’s really giving them the stink-eye,” Robin said. He was. He looked as if he might attack the van, the dogs, the people, indiscriminately, but he only stood there, upper lip curled, until they had all disappeared through the garage and were safely inside the house.

We laughed so hard at that goat—but only because we were inside the house. He really didn’t look like a goat to be trifled with.

A week ago, Ernesto went to the livestock auction in Liberty and purchased three nanny goats of our own. He and my dad drove them from the trailer into the corral, where they stood around looking hyper. When approached, they melted through the corral fence like it wasn’t even there.

Catching a goat is no joke, and for some time the three of us tried to herd them gently back through the slats of the fence and into the enclosure. Things were not looking good, especially at the point when they went around to the front of the house and discovered how tasty the rhododendrons were.

Eventually we did get back them into the corral, and then we backed way off so they wouldn’t feel threatened and bolt back out. My dad offered to go back home and get a reel of barbed wire to string between the slats of the fence, and he left.

Ernesto and I stood around in the back yard, looking at the goats from a distance. There is an older white goat with brown spots that looks a bit like Mamie Eisenhower, a young cute goat who looks something like the older goat and may in fact be kin, and a brown goat that from a distance could be mistaken for a small deer. We’ve named them Iris, Lily, and Rose, respectively. They don’t look dangerous, but they aren’t exactly cozy to be with, either.

While my dad was fetching the wire and the goats were corralled, if not exactly secured, we received company. Two neighborhood dogs, Australian shepherds, arrived to help with the herding. They streaked across the back of the property and into the corral, causing the goats to run to Ernesto for protection. Behind the two dogs came three small boys, who somehow collected the dogs, took them back to their own pen, and returned to the corral in about fifteen seconds. The boys gathered at the fence to watch the goats. They were constantly in motion, climbing the fence to sit on top, going between the slats and then back out again, standing on the bottom rail to get a better view.

“You got some new goats,” the 8-year-old told me.

“We did.”

“Can we pet them?” the 6-year-old asked.

“Not today. They’re feeling sort of nervous. Let’s give them time to settle down.”

The boys accepted this and observed the goats quietly for several minutes before scampering back homeward. “We’ll come back tomorrow!” they promised.

Ernesto went into the house to fortify himself with food. I believe he had forgotten to eat lunch in the excitement of buying goats. Meanwhile, I put some cracked corn into a bucket and went into the corral with it. The goats came toward me, and I managed to lure them into a stable and latch the door shut. When my dad came back, he and Ernesto were able to reinforce the fence without fear that the goats would flee again.

Now the goats are feeling a little more at home, I think, and they each have a nice new collar and Ernesto even took Iris, the tamest of the three, for a walk on a leash. Neither of them seemed to enjoy the outing, though. Still, the collars are useful for holding onto the goats when they need medicine to cure their diarrhea (Iris).

I can tell you one thing: We won’t be plucking their beards or messing with them in any such impertinent way. You look at a goat’s eyes—they are amber and glassy as ice, with a disconcerting black slash of a pupil. They do not look at you. They look right through you, and from their expressions what they see is not pretty.

Anyway, I’d like to see Virginia Woolf pluck a goat’s beard. I don’t believe she could do it.

 

Iris and Rose

Iris and Rose

Mules 004

May 2014: Mule-A-Rama, a sort of rodeo held in the tick-infested woods of Kimesville, NC.

I thought that it was too early for ticks–surely they should wait until June to become a nuisance– but I have now had my first of the season. And it was fierce.

My father says that the way to remove ticks safely and easily is to coat them with Vaseline, wait 10 minutes, and then pull them off. “It makes them slick, though,” he added.

I guess it does. But as I said to him, I am unwilling to share space with a tick for an additional 10 minutes, even to wait for it to be smothered in petroleum by-products—a just and fitting end, if ever there was one. But I need the tick gone at once.

That was the problem in this case, because evidently while I was pulling savagely at his hind parts, the tick was clinging to my flesh for dear life and, no doubt from anxiety, pumping more of his toxins into my blood. So while I won the battle, I am afraid that the tick has won the war. I have a large red welt that itches, burns, and rubs against clothing in a way that is difficult to bear. It’s a constant reminder of the diseases that ticks carry, and how loathsome they are even if they are free of taint.

I sulked for most of one whole day about my bite, but as the day grew later I knew that I needed to sit down and write a letter to my friend, Ruby. So I sat down, and tried to think of some interesting news so as not to fill two pages with details about my tick bite.

Unfortunately, my tick bite was dominating my entire world. In my misery, I thrashed around trying to think of something to say, and my thrashings loosened a scrap of paper. I had torn it in half to use as a grocery list, and on the non-grocery list side I had printed out a poem by Mary Oliver, called “Praying.” Here.

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones, just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

And then I remembered that I was writing a letter to Ruby, my friend, and all I needed to do was patch a few words together and open the door between us. Prayer is about connection, and so is letter-writing. It really isn’t a contest; it’s a patchwork of words to express gratitude for someone’s presence in your life.

This made me feel more cheerful.

But my tick bite still itches like the devil.

 

Key in jar

My favorite jar, with key to grandma’s house.

A day in which I don’t write leaves a taste of ashes. – Simone de Beauvoir

The local news had a story recently about a man in Bessemer City, North Carolina, who loved Duke’s mayonnaise and had eaten nothing but Duke’s for his entire life. He was such a fan that he wanted his mortal remains laid to rest in a Duke’s mayonnaise jar. That would not be newsworthy in and of itself, but the man’s daughter contacted the C. F. Sauer Company and they got to work and prepared two special jars for him. They even printed his name across the little red banner that graces the front of the jar. (On the jars that actually contain mayonnaise, the banner reads, “Smooth and creamy.” I think it’s just as well they decided to replace that with his name.)

I am mocked in my family for liking to put things in jars (as I did last Easter), so of course I was intrigued by this whole idea and began to think seriously about what sort of jar I would like to be buried in. There isn’t any one particular jarred food that I love so much that it would be the obvious candidate, so on my last trip to Food Lion I went up and down the aisles, paying particular attention to anything that was in a glass jar.

Marinated artichokes? No. Sauerkraut? Certainly not. Peanut butter? Well…no. Jelly? That’s a possibility, especially a name brand that includes the words “Naturally sweet” on the label. I do think that it needs to be a name-brand item; nothing against Food Lion, but who wants to be buried in an off-brand jar, especially if it’s called something like Valu-Time?

The Rolls Royce of jelly jars is the white glass crock that holds Dundee Orange Marmalade. But the text is painted onto the jar, and would not be so easy to revise. The Braswell’s Fig Preserves jar is attractive with its gold-colored lid and forest-green and white label. But the prominent location of their slogan, “Full of Tender Figs,” put me off.

The condiment aisle had several options, including mustard (“coarse ground” would be appropriate), salsa, chutneys, barbecue sauce, and olives. If your name happened to be Olive, you could just add the word “remains” beneath “Olives” and you’d be all set. Yes, it lacks the possessive apostrophe, but these days nobody seems to care about punctuation, anyway.

I glanced at the mayonnaise jars, but really had no interest in any of them. I did note that it was a good thing the gentleman in Bessemer City had preferred Duke’s, since the other popular brand down here is called Hellman’s. Don’t want to spend all of eternity in Hellman’s, even though they have a nice tagline: “Bring out the best.”

Then there were the pickles. This is rich territory. Almost anyone could be buried in a pickle jar and still retain his or her unique personality. I would probably choose bread-and-butter pickles, or sweet pickle relish. Yes, sweet pickle relish has a pleasant, positive tone.

I came to a full stop in front of the varieties of spicy pickled products offered by Sims Foods: Wickles. “Wickles” could become “Vickles” on a bespoke jar from Sims Foods—assuming they are as accommodating as C. F. Sauer—and the slogan “wickedly delicious” has strong appeal.

Moving on. Besides the sauerkraut and marinated artichokes, the vegetable aisle offered several brands of mushrooms in jars, chicken gravy, and Aunt Nellie’s Pickled Beets. I wouldn’t want someone else’s name featured so prominently on my jar, which is why I wasn’t interested in the Newman’s Own salsa or marinara. In fact, none of the spaghetti sauces seemed right: Ragu, Prego, Hunt’s. Classico is the only one I would even consider, if I had no other choice.

Like the jams and jellies, the ice cream toppings are tempting—hot fudge, caramel, walnut, butterscotch. Who wouldn’t be happy in one of those?

Among the breakfast foods, I found Grandma’s Molasses, which certainly sounds like me, as the label declares it to be many of the things that I am: Natural, sweet, pure, never bitter, original, unsulphured. Maybe they would print a custom label for my special jar, incorporating a photo of me and changing the name to “Vicki’s Ol’ Ashes.”

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