Posts Tagged ‘Letters’

Mules 004

May 2014: Mule-a-Rama, 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.

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Egg with woodland phlox

I am reflecting on Easter memories, as chronicled in letters written over the past 10 years. Here are a few excerpts:

Fernandina Beach, cheesecake, a cat on the table: Easter 2002

After church I picked up the ham, deviled eggs, cheesecake, and six orchid corsages and drove to Susan’s house in Fernandina Beach. Susan and I got everything ready and Day, Joan, Teresa, and Teresa’s friend Katherine came over for a late lunch. We pulled the long poplar table in the kitchen out from the three raised windows and gathered around it. A nice breeze blew through while we ate; Joan said it was like eating on a porch. Bougainvillea bloomed right outside the window, flowers bloomed on the table, a lady cardinal with a vivid orange beak hopped on the railing, and in the middle of the meal when we were all talking and laughing Susan’s cat, Kiffin, suddenly jumped on the table, creating quite a stir.

Then, in the conversational equivalent of a cat jumping on the table, Susan said, “Joan, tell everyone how you injured yourself watching TV and had to be life-flighted to Jacksonville.”

Joan said that on Friday evening she stood up and found that she’d lost the use of her left foot.  She called her doctor, who sent her to the emergency room. Fernandina Beach hospital life-flighted her to Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville for stroke evaluation, but it turned out it was a pinched nerve from sitting with one leg folded under her to watch TV. 

A food-related illness: post-Easter 2008

I am not feeling at all well, so I have gone back and made a list of everything I cooked (and ate) on Saturday and Sunday:

Saturday morning:  Coffee, of course.  At about 10:00 ate a ham and cheese sandwich. Ham left over from Easter; perhaps it’s beginning to Go Bad?? 

Saturday afternoon: Ernesto wanted shepherd’s pie so I browned the ground beef with onion, garlic, and broth to get the process started. Ate nothing at that point.  Made naan, the Indian flat bread that we love.  Ate one piece while warm and delicious.

Saturday evening:  Went to Applebee’s. Ate spinach and artichoke dip with tortilla chips, two mini-chicken sandwiches, two mini-steak quesadillas, a mini chocolate sundae. Maybe I ate too mini?

Sunday morning:  Pancakes, bacon, butter, maple syrup. Absolutely new package of bacon, absolutely new bottle of syrup.  Pancakes were frozen.  Butter is never bad. Right?

Sunday afternoon:  Hot dog with mustard and ketchup, jalapeno and cheese potato chips. Hot dogs have been around for maybe 2 weeks, but I hear that they stay good forever.

Later Sunday afternoon:  Started cooking for the week ahead.  Marinated chicken in yogurt and spices, then grilled it to make chicken tikka masala.  Ate one chunk of chicken. It was delicious. Made mashed potatoes to go on top of shepherd’s pie already in progress, assembled pie and placed it in oven. Through all of this, licked up quite a lot of mashed potatoes. Decided we’d have shepherd’s pie for supper, so put chicken in fridge to finish on Monday. Ate a delicious Russell Stover bird’s nest, then started making a pasta dish to pack for my lunch in the coming week:  Sauteed mushrooms, onion, garlic and spices in a bit of butter. Added milk, flour, and cream to the skillet.  Stirred a mighty long time, if you ask me. Finally it began to bubble. Drank a bottle of acai juice because it’s supposed to be good for you. Added one can of diced tomatoes and a package of frozen spinach, previously thawed, to the pasta sauce. Tasted the sauce.  Decided to get rid of more Easter ham by shredding some up and throwing it in with the pasta.  Ate a bite or two of ham. Dropped a mushroom in the sink—picked it up and ate it.  Ate shepherd’s pie with naan for dinner.  Ate a slice of leftover Easter coconut cake.  Drank a glass of milk. Had an emergency dose of Pepto-Bismol brought to me in bed by Ernesto. Threw up.

When I look back at the weekend, it occurs to me that at some point Ernesto and I also split another ham and cheese sandwich, but I can’t tell where in the world it fit in. I was the only one who got sick—which points to the mushrooms as the possible source of the problem.  And those mushrooms started off on a bad foot before they even got out of the grocery store.  When the cashier rang them up, she said, “You gonna eat mushrooms!?”  I told her it wasn’t as if I went out and picked them in the woods—they were legitimate, commercial mushrooms. That cut no ice with the cashier. And maybe she was right. 

Carrot cake and marzipan: Easter 2010

This year, Ernesto requested a carrot cake for Easter. I soon learned that I despise grating carrots. I found a recipe that called for one and one-half cups of grated carrots, which at least sounded more reasonable than the recipes that called for three cups, and I grated two of my fingernails completely off. That is only a slight exaggeration. The fingernail on my right thumb is down to the quick, and the fingernail on my right middle finger is grated a bit, too.  It’s possible that there are trace amounts of fingernail in the cake, but by the time I was finished grating I did not care.  

I bought a nice supply of Easter eggs yesterday to fill in the cracks that a carrot cake cannot possibly fill. Aldi had adorable little coconut and marzipan chocolate eggs. I have eaten one of the coconut batch, and they are very good and the perfect size. What I really crave, though, is my annual Russell Stover chocolate and coconut nest with three mini jelly beans inside. I love those a whole lot.

Tornadoes, bird’s-nest candy, and flan cake:  Easter 2011

Holli called yesterday to make sure that we had not blown away with the tornado that touched down here Friday evening. We are only 10 minutes from the airport, which got hit pretty hard, but we didn’t have any trouble at all. The storms passed after an hour or so, and the Cardinals were able to finish playing their game downtown.

Holli also mentioned that my niece, Anna, had a friend coming over in the afternoon and they were going to make bird’s-nest candy. She said to make the nests you must melt butterscotch chips and dump in a large can of La Choy chow mein noodles, then glop the mixture onto waxed paper to form little nests. She said she had a bag of Hershey’s candy-coated chocolate eggs to stick in her nests. Well, I caught bird’s-nest fever, and added chow mein noodles, butterscotch chips, and little candy eggs to my shopping list. I couldn’t find the Hershey eggs, but I got a small bag of Cadbury eggs and another little pack of Reese’s candy-coated peanut-butter eggs. Today, after about 15 minutes of nest-making, I had butterscotch up to my elbows and 17 charming little nests all done. It’s a messy project, but easy and satisfying.

Ernesto requested a flan cake for Easter this year. He said it’s a cake with a layer of flan on top. What would I do without the computer? I looked up “flan cake,” and voila—several different variations! Basically you line a bundt pan with caramel, spoon in a yellow cake batter, and then pour the flan custard mixture on top—evaporated milk, condensed milk, and four eggs. After baking in a water bath for an hour, the flan sinks to the bottom and magically becomes the top when you remove the cake from the pan. My cake is cooling on the counter right now, and we are nervously anticipating flipping it over. I’ll let you know how it goes…. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it went “gloomph” and came out in a big wet mess. We’ll see.

[Note: The flan cake turned out fine.]

Update: Easter 2012

This year we had a pecan rum cake (Holli’s recipe, using coconut rum) but decided against ham, having had an Unpleasant Experience with our Christmas ham. Ernesto is determined to procure a country ham from somewhere soon, so we will look forward to that. And tomorrow I’m going to stop at three different stores and buy up all the leftover, half-priced Russell Stover coconut nests that I can find.

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This is the postcard that my grandfather sent to my grandmother on her 19th birthday, 83 years ago today. The reverse of the card is shown below.

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Christmas 1928

This is the Christmas postcard that my grandfather sent to my grandmother when they were courting. The card is postmarked December 22, 1928, so they were both 18 at the time. I expressed surprise that he would mail her a card, since they lived so close to one another. My uncle said, “He lived two-and-a-half miles away. They probably only saw each other at church.”

And here’s the message side of the card. Merry Christmas to you and all the ones you love!

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I was going to do a load of laundry, but I thought that if I did that I would have to put them in the dryer and once they were dry I would have to fold them all. I decided to sit down and write you a note instead.

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Instead of blue, I ended up painting the back room yellow. I am second-guessing my choice of shades: Summer Sunshine appeared to be a lovely pale creamy yellow in the can, but it turned into a screaming bright yellow when applied to the walls…. By the way, I loved your description of the garden party. I first read, “She lives in a very modest house, but has a large backyard,” as “She lives in a very modest house, but has a large background.” After learning she had devised a fountain in her son’s wading pool, I decided I was right. That is a woman with a large background.

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Background music during dinner consisted of Anna banging on the piano and being told, repeatedly, to stop. After dinner we sang songs, because for some reason that’s what we do, mostly stuff like “You Are My Sunshine,” “You Get a Line and I’ll Get a Pole,” and “I’ll Fly Away.”  We got louder and louder, until Holli called out, “Sit down flat in the wagon, children!” as we swung into my favorite bluegrass song, “Rain and Snow.”

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Snow fell overnight; it was just a dusting, but enough to cancel church, so Daddy took us on a hike. He’s been clearing brush to create walking trails that loop around through the wooded areas that border two large cleared fields on the other side of the creek. He’s doing that because he likes cutting brush better than walking on the treadmill. That evening we drove to Chapel Hill and had dinner at Robin’s, then on Monday evening we all got together at Holli’s for Brunswick stew. At dinner Clark told us that he had some sort of homework assignment due—an essay.  I was bored by the idea of an essay, so I advised him to write it in verse and then posed a question to the entire table: “What rhymes with ‘essay’?” Robin immediately responded, “Dessay.”

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I daresay you miss seeing the exciting news reports that come frequently out of the rural South, so I am enclosing a recent article from the Raleigh paper about a spate of rabid fox attacks. I liked the way the Animal Control officer described one particularly diseased fox as looking like Marty Feldman. He added, “That’s a furious form of rabies.” The piece goes on to describe how onlookers applauded (“Woo-hoo!” they cheered) when Animal Control finally trapped the fox.

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Fox4 News reported yesterday as breaking news that it had gone five hours without raining since Sunday. We feel like we’re living in a big green sponge. By the way, we thought of FOUR words that start with “dw,” if you’ll count “dweeb,” which is the first one both Susan and Nancy thought of. The others are dwindle, dwell, and dwarf.

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My dwarf rose-bush survived the move from Florida to St. Louis! In fact, we are all thriving. I went to the Quaker church for the first time this Sunday. The church is small, with pews arranged in concentric circles that face an empty middle area. The meeting is unprogrammed, so we sit in silent meditation unless/until someone feels inspired by God to say something illuminating. And may I just say, most Quakers still do not understand this concept, and they share all sorts of thoughts that could not possibly have been inspired by The Most High. I keep my mouth shut. Anyway, a member named Eleanor had died recently, so several of the other members stood up and shared memories of her. They talked about how she was so energetic—doing exercises up until the time of her stroke, at the age of 84. They said that she was very well-respected in the community; in fact, when the Pope visited, Eleanor was chosen to be one of a group of community spiritual leaders who met with him. Finally, a woman with a lovely British accent stood up and said, “Eleanor was such an inspiration to me. She had the ability to really cut through the bullshit. It was wonderful, wonderful.”

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…wonderful crop of tomatoes this year, and we’ve got squash coming out of our ears. The cucumber vine went absolutely berserk, possibly due to an over-application of Miracle-Gro.  The vine is climbing up the side of the garage, onto the rain barrels, and will soon be reaching for the nearest passing cloud. The vine is so dense that it’s difficult to see into it, but we did find two deathly pale, huge, bloated cucumbers. They appear inedible, although I believe we could use them to make dugout canoes.

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Dugout canoes have interested me since the fourth grade. Our class studied early American history, which included a section on native Americans. We wove simple baskets, read about Pocahontas, and learned how to make a dugout canoe. Filled with knowledge, I held forth at the family dinner table. Evidently my excitement was contagious, because that Saturday your granddaddy found a select piece of wood in the firewood stack and we commenced to make a small model dugout. He used a blowtorch, and we painstakingly burned and scraped and picked at the charred wood until we had a nice interior. He shaped the ends into canoeish points, and I proudly took my model dugout to school on Monday morning. Now it sits on my desk and holds my pens.

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My pen is threatening to run out of ink but let me tell you about Holli’s solo Sunday night. She was doing the verses of the song and the choir sang the chorus. She was singing as the choir came down the center aisle. She got through the 1st verse and completely forgot the 2nd—it was dark—but then she finally remembered it. Everybody thought that she was waiting on purpose to give the choir time to get down the aisle but NO! She just blanked out! They weren’t using music or she would have given the pianist a terrible time.

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Time for me to get dinner going, so I’ll sign off now. Oh, I forgot to tell you that Delia is in County Hospital and not expected to live much longer. She is not eating or even getting glucose (some people say glo-coat).


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Ernesto at Up River Friends Cemetery, Perquimans County

I never wash dishes without thinking of Grandma. When I was small I often stood on a stool beside her and listened to her talk as she sluiced a soapy dishcloth over and around each glass, plate, and fork. A window above the sink gave us a view of the side garden and a section of road from the house to the church. Between gazing out the window and washing dishes, she kept up a running commentary on what passed outside that window. Sometimes what passed was current, and sometimes it was memory.

“There goes Mr. Stanley,” she might say, nodding out the window where a man picked his way down the side of the road. “They call him the Traveling Newspaper, because he tells everything he knows. See those cotton stalks at the edge of the garden? If you stay still and watch, you might see a bird pull some cotton to line her nest. That’s why I put in a few cotton plants every year—for the birds. I can remember many a time I stood here and watched your daddy and the other boys playing at rabbit hunting. Some boys would be rabbits, some would be dogs, and the others would be the hunters. Look at all these spoons we used! That’s what happens when you eat ice cream. One time when your daddy and uncle were little, I went to get them ready for church while Granddaddy did the breakfast dishes for me. He told me we had used every fork, knife, and spoon in the house.”

Grandma was 49 when I was born and had already lived in her house up the road from the church for 25 years. The next closest house, nearer the church, had belonged to my great-grandparents. She would live in her house another 41 years, until she moved next door to live with my aunt and uncle. During that time I grew up, Granddaddy died, the barns came down, and Grandma was rendered deaf in her left ear when a clown shot off a gun too close to her head inside the church. (The gun was shooting blanks, and it was all supposed to be in good fun, but Grandma never forgave that clown, entirely, though she tried.)

I moved away from North Carolina, which began my letter-writing binge. Periodically, I received a response. Once she sent me her recipe for cornbread, and in a later note asked, “Did you make a good pan of bread? It is good with field peas or don’t you like peas?” She sent me a birthday card with a $5 bill in it and a message: “Use this to go to lunch one day when you’re not too hungry.” And once I got a mysterious packet, a bulging brown envelope. Inside was a white paper bag, and in the bag I found two pieces of cardboard taped around something soft. A slip of paper fell out of the white bag and fluttered to the floor. Grandma had written: “Gift wrappers gone on strike. Ha.” Sandwiched between the sheets of cardboard she had folded a piece of handmade white tatting.

Grandma’s funeral was in October, when the cotton stalks lay bent and broken, and boys could again pretend to hunt rabbits in the empty fields. The minister was new to the Up River Friends Meeting, and I dreaded hearing him speak. He hadn’t known my grandma long enough to conduct her funeral.

He told us about the first time he met Grandma. He had walked into Uncle Arnold’s house and greeted my grandma, Ms. Mary, who sat in her green upholstered rocker. She immediately invited him to sing.

My uncle thought she was confused. He said, loudly, “Mama, that’s not Eric [the former minister]. Eric’s the one who sang. This is the new preacher.”

And Grandma replied, “I know who he is, and I want him to sing.”

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