Motivation: I Meant To Post This Yesterday

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by Pookie

There is just enough room
on the half-made mattress
for a strategic nap,
body curled carefully around
an assortment of books,
clothes, and technology
that have long been separated
from appropriate housing.

There used to be a chair
next to a former desk,
but it is now a shelf
of laundry that might be clean
and a table of used
and forgotten kitchen-ware.

There is a pathway on what
might be hard-wood floor
from the door to the bed
and the bed to the bookcase,
an artfully mapped plan around
high-heels and dusty sneakers.

The piles keep growing
but there is still enough room
to moderately function.
I will deal with it later

Pookie is a poet and proud Ole Miss Alum who is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree.

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The Old Man: Burning in the New Year

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Traditions are one of the ways we tell ourselves and each other who we are. And if you live in a small town, you know how sometimes even the smallest of traditions can carry enormous weight. New Year’s Eve is when my little southern town in Central Florida carries on what is apparently a unique tradition in America.

The Bartow Christmas tree burning has been going on for 78 years according to some accounts. Even though the pile of trees collected and stacked around a 35 foot-tall wooden pole on the edge of a soccer field seems to get a little smaller each year, the tradition keeps going.

A decade-and-a-half ago, when we came to witness our first tree burning, we stumbled across the bumpy grass in a darkness that was so complete we wanted to stretch our hands out before us. Finally, we recognized the dim shapes of dozens people gathered at the edge of the field. We made our way there, recognizing voices from our church and neighborhood. We found a place to stand just as a pinpoint of light from a flashlight ignited above a small podium a dozen yards away.

The voice of S. L. Frisbie IV, the editor and publisher of our town’s twice-weekly newspaper, welcomed everyone and began to explain what was about to happen. With the soft-round vowels of our local accent and the gentle humor that is his trademark, he told the story of how a city councilman in the 1930s worried about the fire hazard of having tinder-dry Christmas trees inside wood frame houses more than a week past the holiday.

This councilman began a rumor that it is bad luck to have a tree in your house after the First of the Year. Once he convinced his colleagues on the City Council of this superstition, he succeeded in winning the City’s approval to hold a community bonfire with donated Christmas trees from the citizens. The idea quickly won support. Whether they were concerned about luck or just wanted to know that their own tree was part of the celebration, people eagerly contributed their trees to the effort, and a new tradition was born.

The bonfire was interrupted during the Second World War over concerns that Nazi U-boat navigators might spot the glow on the horizon. Once we were free from the thought of Germans peering through periscopes at a small town 60 miles inland, the tradition was renewed, and S.L. says the Associated Press occasionally lists our town’s tree burning as an example of unusual community events in America.

And so, our town’s tradition has also become our family’s tradition. Ever since we first came here, we have stumbled through the dark with children and friends to the join the small crowd at the edge of the soccer field.

We listen to S.L. deliver the same monologue — with the same jokes and same wonderment over such things as New Year superstitions and enemy submarines. Then we join the voices in the dark singing a Scottish tune most of us don’t understand the words to. And then we applaud and cheer as the stack of trees bursts into a golden blaze that climbs high into the sky, driving the night from around us.

In this moment we know the past is burning away, and its glow is helping us to see clearly everyone around us, smiling, laughing, and gazing at the flames. On New Year’s Eve, we’ll be there again, celebrating the past and looking forward to the future.

Happy New Year!

Victory Over Daily Life: The Washing Machine

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The slight smell of burning rubber coming from the laundry room should have alerted us to a problem. But it was the weekend and something in the dryer probably just got hot.

By Monday, it became clear that it wasn’t the dryer at all.

Isn’t it always a load of towels that sends washing machines into spasms? Or in our case just murdered the appliance with the sudden precision strike of an assassin.

It was Monday, I was ill, and it was raining. So I did what any person in my situation would do…I called my mother to complain. Whine really.

And it helped.

There was no reason to panic because I actually have two washing machines. The recently deceased one that was a part of the 2004 addition to the Old House and the older top loading one that sits in the original laundry room behind the garage and is nothing more than a shelf for Christmas decorations.

I believe that every old house in our neighborhood has an outside laundry room, sometimes connected to the garage but never to the house. Early in the morning, you can often catch a glimpse of our neighbors, huddling in their bathrobes, dashing out to their laundry rooms to fetch some necessaries. It’s Florida and the builders of these houses got it right when they decided that the last thing they needed was an appliance blowing hot air.

After my pouting and foot stomping, I pulled myself together enough to call the repairman and dust off the old machine so that I could be back in the laundry business.

Now it’s Thursday.  In three days I have become an expert on washing machine transmissions. Who knew that there were such things?  And who would have thought that they would eventually leak oil and die on a rainy Monday?

Not just the one machine…no, both my washers decided to go out together like an elderly couple in one of those wonderful stories, or probably more like Thelma and Louise.

The new machine with a viable transmission is on its way.  A trip to the laundromat ended the immediate dirty clothes crisis.

My cold is gone. The sun is out.

But I’m sure there will be something else to whine about when I call my mother this afternoon!

An Unexpected Adventure

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By Saunro

It was a magical trip.

The mid-October drive through Virginia and Tennessee gave us a view of the vivid red and yellow autumn colors, valleys and vintage farm houses. The Fall harvest readied in the Blue Ridge Mountain apple orchards and corn fields as we passed.

The trip was unplanned, as was the urn in the backseat. My mother-in-law, Mary Rose, passed nine days before her 93rd birthday and we were on our way from her home in Maryland to take her to her second memorial and burial service in Miami.

It was a fitting last adventure for Mary Rose.  Her life was full of commitment to her country and to humanitarian causes, as well as some unique connections to history. For the first few years of her life she lived across the street from the United State Capitol, on the current site of the United States Supreme Court. She was a child of the Great Depression and during World War II she served the nation as an aircraft plotter in secret locations around the D.C. area. Along with her mother and sisters, Mary Rose assisted with the USO where she once met Eleanor Roosevelt.

She married and moved to Miami and was a public servant for the Miami-Dade County for 30 years. The County Commission honored her dedication by proclaiming January 31, 1991 as “Mary R. Turner Day.”

Even after retirement, she never stopped having adventures. She and her sister Louise drove cross-country when she was in her 70s. When she was in her 80s and widowed with grand-kids, she reconnected with and married her high school sweetheart, Bill.

During the trip, I spoke to Mary Rose in her beautiful rose colored urn, pointing out some of the sites in Virginia’s Jefferson country. We took her to visit her granddaughter and twin great granddaughters at our Georgia mountain home before the making the final processional to Miami.

I know that she enjoyed the last adventure. It was one that I’ll never forget.

My Veteran

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It is still hard for me to believe that our son is a Veteran.  Veterans are supposed to be fathers or grandfathers or mothers. Never our kids.

But he is, proudly serving and thankfully safe and sound after three years, one deployment and too many miles away from home.

The U.S. Air Force is lucky to have him and also two of his great friends from childhood. These three boys—they’re men now I suppose but will always be boys to me—who in high school staged strategic toilet paper attacks with military precision the likes of which our small town had never seen.  With their own special redneck ingenuity, they engineered a giant slingshot in the back of one’s pickup truck to shoot grapefruit and soda cans across empty fields.  It worked well until they learned about backdraft the hard way, shooting out the truck’s rear window.

Now they have each sworn an oath and volunteered to go into harm’s way.  They’ve dealt with separation from home and family but also the thrill of the adventure.  These hometown boys have even run into each other overseas at “undisclosed locations” and two thankfully have home bases only a few hours away from each other.

This Veteran’s Day we have a new member of the family serving: our wonderful daughter-in-law who is currently away from their home, leading a Army platoon in training.

A lot has happened in the three years since our boy has been on active duty. He married a great girl and created a real home albeit in a place neither of them ever dreamed of living. They have endured months apart with conviction and courage and in that they have become a true military family.

One that, especially on this Veteran’s Day, I could not be more proud of.

They’re Good People

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By Pookie

“They’re good people, babe!” Those are the immortal words of my uncle whenever he encounters good cooks. His logic is simple and sound: good people make good food.

I know it’s basic but cooking for someone is the best way to show that you care—even if it’s something as simple as a thrown together casserole.

Although we’ve all experienced this through dinners with family or friends, my favorite local rib joint demonstrates the “good people rule” daily. Its run by a wonderful couple who take the time to get to know their patrons: they remember that I can’t have butter on my hamburger bun, that my neighbor always drinks diet Coke with her chicken and waffles, and that my Mamaw wants sausage gravy for both her biscuits and grits.

John Currence, the James Beard award-winning chef of Oxford, Mississippi’s famous City Grocery, is a proponent of just taking the time to think about what you’re doing in the kitchen and who you’re doing it for.

“Make a drink or pour a glass of wine before you start cooking,” Currence writes in his 2013 cookbook Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey. “Create a joyful working environment. Cooking is work, no question about it, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery. Make it fun.” He also suggests listening to specific music while cooking and there’s even a great Spotify playlist to go with his recipes.

A simple home dish that I love making is an extraordinarily basic but tasty hamburger casserole. It’s far from healthy so it’s a rare treat, but always worth the calories and preservatives.

Share this with some good people, babe.They’ll know you care.

Hamburger Casserole
Listen to: Tall, Tall, Trees by Alan Jackson

• One can of Grands biscuits
• One pound of hamburger
• One can of cream of mushroom soup, or your favorite dairy-free alternative
• One quarter cup of sour cream, again you can use your favorite dairy-free alternative
• As many Frenches fried onions as you want…yes, the ones in the jar.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Brown the hamburger and drain it on a paper towel. Then transfer the meat to a cast iron skillet or 9 inch square pan, stir in the cream of mushroom soup, the sour cream, and the onions. Once that is thoroughly mixed place the uncooked biscuits on top. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the meat mixture is bubbly and the biscuits are golden brown on top.

Saturday Traditions

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Game day is an early day for this Old House.  This season Pookie’s Ole Miss Rebels have finally broken through to the next level of college football rankings. The Old Man’s Wisconsin Badgers are giving him the dreaded “Badger Pain”, something that he loudly proclaims as the worst football fandom pain.  Although this season even he concedes that my Florida Gators have given me the most painful season in a very long time.

Our Saturday morning chores are done around ESPN’s College Game Day. Then we text our Florida State son to tease him about his unbeaten team sitting at #2, behind Mississippi State;  eat a light lunch while watching the early afternoon Badger games; hope to be pleasantly surprised by the Gators; and always take the time to cheer against Auburn and Michigan.

Then it’s time to get ready for the Rebel’s game that night.  Although Ole Miss has never won the Southeastern Conference in football, their tailgating traditions translate beautifully even hundreds of miles away.  As the Ole Miss adage goes: we might lose a game but we ain’t never lost a party.

In keeping with that Rebel charm, we break out the good china and silver for some take-out ribs from Tony’s, heat up okra and tomatoes from an old Mississippi recipe, and follow it all with a little Blanton’s bourbon and my grandmother’s easy and delicious blackberry cobbler.

Don’t think that Southern football is all about men watching games while the ladies cook. Early one Fall Friday morning a few years ago, I sat in a Tallahassee hotel restaurant across an aisle from ESPN football analyst Kirk Herbstreit who was in town with College Game Day at Florida State University.

As I sat drinking coffee and waiting for The Old Man to return to the hotel after his business meeting, I watched the parade of people walk over to Herbstreit’s table to shake his hand. The men were pleasant and polite, but the women wanted to talk. Not about being on television or tailgating rituals and recipes. No, they wanted to talk football!

They discussed specifics about college quarterbacks and their NFL potential from schools across the nation.  Even our waitress, a tiny, middle-aged woman, asked Herbstreit a slew of questions like why the New England Patriots were so enamored with drafting Florida Gator players, if running quarterbacks could really make it in the NFL and did he agree that Florida State was just a few years away from a national title? (She was right on the money with that.)

As she poured another round of coffee, Herbstreit told her “Women in the South know more about college football than anyone male or female anywhere else in the country. We should have a feature on that.”

Yes, you should. And we’ll be watching!

My Grandmother’s Blackberry Cobbler

1 unbaked pie crust
1 quart blackberries
1 cup flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk

Pre-heat oven to 350. Place pie crust in either round pie plate or preferably a cast iron skillet and top with blackberries. Then mix the flour, sugar and milk in a bowl and pour it over the blackberries. Bake for about 50 minutes, checking at the end to make sure custard of the cobbler is set but not browned.

Enjoy with some good vanilla ice cream and a winning team! It is also exceptionally good the following day cold.