Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Memory Lane: Etta Caywood

One of the sweetest ladies I have ever in my life met was Etta Caywood. She was the mother of my loser uncle David. He married my Dad's only sister, Auntie Ilene, and they had two children, Tiger and Julie. While David wasn't worth the powder it would take to blow his brains out, Etta was a jewel. My heart is so happy right now as I'm pulling up all of the Etta love I have for her.

Etta always sat on our pew in church. She sat next to my Grandmother and drove her crazy. Etta was a fidgeting non-stop mover. She was always adjusting the white sweater that she had permanently draped over her shoulders, or digging in her purse for the Fig Newtons she ate during church, or getting her finger nail clippers out for a quick trim. She was just fidgety and Grandmother hated fidgeters. Etta made change in the collection plate. In the Church of Christ we celebrate communion every Sunday and immediately following communion we pass the collection plate to get funds. Each week as the plate came by Etta would place the plate on her lap drop in her bill and take out the change. Grandmother would just huff! Loved it. At some point in the service Etta would lean over to Grandmother and say, "Newton...Velva?" Oh how that made my Grandmother's blood boil. I've posted this before, here.

Etta looked like Granny Clampet from the Beverly Hillbillies with Queen Elizabeth's hair and Aunt Bee's wardrobe (does that do it for ya?). Her lips always glistened and were very taught, I think from false teeth that were not quite a right fit. She also had a constant smile on her face and was just absolute sugar sweet. She smelled of Ponds Cold Cream, with an ever so slight Fig newton aroma. Etta had an elastaband watch with a Kleenex stuffed in it. I can't quite figure out how one old lady with a used Kleenex and clean up a 10 gallon spill and still use the Kleenex when I have to have a shop vac and 10 rolls of paper towel. How do they do that?

Etta's house was warm and wonderful. She lived on the Corner of Hearall and Delaware. Her house was built into a hill, as most homes in Neosho were. It was a White house with a perfectly manicured lawn. She had a stone wall surrounding her property which only went up to about two maybe three feet. Atop the wall was an old fashioned fence. It was like wire hanger wire made into connected arches, very cool. You parked on Hearall, walked to the gate, stepped down about four steps to the walk and went up to her house. The house was a white asbestos tile home, very tiny. It only had a living room, bedroom, bathroom, dining room, and kitchen which was the smallest kitchen I've ever seen in my life. I would guess the kitchen floor was 3x6, literally one person could stand in that kitchen and no one else. There was a door in the kitchen which took you outside to the yard. The two car garage that faced Delaware Street was bigger than her house. It had all kinds of wonderful stuff in there, but I wasn't' allowed in there. Had she been my Grandmother, you better bet I'd be in there.

Etta's kitchen being so small, she kept her refrigerator in the dining room. She had Milkmaid wallpaper and a linoleum that had turquoise and gold glitter in it.

There were three things that stood out in my mind which came from Etta's kitchen. First, popcorn balls. Her popcorn balls were hands down the best popcorn balls I have ever eaten in my life. Every Halloween we made a bee line to Etta's house for popcorn balls. They were the size of softballs, sweet, not sticky, somewhat salty, and all perfectly shaped and wrapped. She only made them on Halloween and they were a treat. I don't really like popcorn (gets stuck in your teeth) or sticky stuff that much, but I would eat her popcorn balls. I'm getting a craving for them right now, blast! Secondly, her grilled bologna and cheese sandwiches. She always put about two-three tablespoons of butter in her cast iron skillet, made three cuts in the bologna and fried it in the butter. As the bologna was cooking she buttered the super soft white bread, the bologna was put on a blue Melamie plate while she cooked the cheese sandwiches. I didn't really care for the fried bologna and cheese sandwiches because they were served with tomato soup which I despise. The sandwiches were ok, but I prefer my bologna cold with iceberg lettuce, white bread the kind that sticks to the roof of your mouth, mayonnaise, and cheese thank you very much. Last, but certainly not least: Macaroni and Cheese.

Etta's macaroni and cheese was off-brand Kraft macaroni and cheese, never anything else but that. She always served it in shallow soup bowls. Tiger and I would be called to the table and there sat our macaroni and cheese. She cooked the noodles until they were very, very done, no al denta here more like al mooshay. The milk, butter, salt and pepper were added as well, but no cheese. As we sat down she would come in with her sweet, lovely smile, "would you like some cheese?" "yes please." At that point she would take the envelope which had been carefully cut open with scissors and sprinkle some cheese over my bowl of macaroni. Hands down this is the most bizarre way I have ever, ever eaten mac&cheese. I wanted desperately for her to just dump that cheese in the pan and serve it like every American in the universe does, but she was so sweet I just couldn't say anything.

I truly loved this sweet, sweet lady and hated how her only son treated her and how her only grandchildren hated her. It was my goal to let her know how much I loved her and I have to this day longed for her to be my "other" grandmother. Had I had her and my Granny to love me there's not telling how my life would have been different however I have no desire to be the spawn of her wretched and horrible son. I'll have a post about him...maybe.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In the kitchen with Moron

I've posted many, many times my love for cooking and as a matter of fact I can smell the aroma of brownies filling the house as I type...mood music! Before I actually had somewhat of a clue in the kitchen I made some horrific mistakes and still cause my family to cringe at the thought of them. Hey what can I say...I'm a Moron. I share two tales from my vast collection of cooking disasters created in the kitchen's of my youth.

Grilled Cheese briquette anyone?

I really like grilled cheese sandwiches when I was a kid. My favorite thing to do with grilled cheese was try to get all the melted cheese out of the sandwich then devour the cheesy, toasty, buttery bread...mmmm. Etta Caywood always made fried bologna and cheese sandwiches, not my favorite. I'll have to post an Etta's kitchen story soon, before I forget--it's a humdinger. The coldest possible glass of milk had to be on hand and guzzled, I guzzle my milk and do not slowly sip because it gets tepid too quick.

Mom and I were at Grandmother's house, which in and of itself was just amazing, I think because Mom was getting some sewing help from Grandma. Again, it's such a bizarre thing for this event, I might have just blocked the whole memory out...except for what was about to happen. I have to check the brownies...they smell done. Sure enough...where was I--oh yes. I was really hungry and asked Mom when we would be leaving because I was hungry. It took a lot of nerve to get me off the couch and into the "other" room as I wasn't' really allowed in parts of Grandmother's house other than the sofa or outside.

"Mom...when are we leaving? I'm starving." "You're hungry? Well you just ate dinner didn't you?" "Yes Ma'am we did but I'm still hungry." "Well you can go make yourself a cheese sandwich--don't make a mess!" Grandmother had allowed me into the kitchen! Allowed me into the fridge...the wardrobe had opened and I was surely stepping into Narnia. It was the only time I ever, ever felt free at her house.

I got the bread, margarine, cheese, knife, spatula, and cast iron square griddle out for my culinary adventure. Keep in mind that I'm around 9-12 here, Poppa was dead and he died when I 8, so it was for sure after that, and had no clue about making a grilled cheese sandwich. I thought I had all of the principles of grilled cooking down, but oh how wrong I was.

1. Turn on gas stove to full throttle, NASA hot.

2. Place skillet on stove to get smokin hot.

3. Butter bread with cold margarine which tears holes in bread.

4. Waft smoke from smokin hot griddle and slap on said holy bread.

5. Stand amazed at the amount of smoke created by this simple step.

6. Place cheese on bread as it is emitting a rather choking black smoke. does the cheese melt? It must melt on the skillet.

7. Use spatula to scrape black bread from skillet and flip over onto skillet allowing cheese to make contact.

8. Note: Cheese when burning at a high rate will actually flame up. When that happens scream!

"HELP! HELP! FIRE!" "What in God's name...!" Grandmother and mother were both in the kitchen which had a dense Jersey like fog hanging over it and quickly sprang into action. "Son...what were you thinking?" Holding back the was shear terror I assure you. "I was just hungry and didn't know how to melt the cheese" Grandmother wasn't happy at all and let me know it. While everyone else in the family can laugh about it (I'm snickering right now) I don't think Grandmother has yet to laugh about it. I never did get to eat.

Paul are safe!

About 1985 or 6 I was enamoured with Creole cooking especially blackening. Blackened chicken was everywhere! Paul Prudhomme was the quintessential Creole cook and lead, I think he might have even invented, in teaching the world about blackening. I was all for it, until I learned that it is hot...really hot and i don't do hot--at all.

I pulled dinner duty usually and tired to shake things up a bit when i cooked, wanting to try different things and not just have the same old same old. One particular night...sis was gone and Mom was working late which left Dad and me home alone. I couldn't talk Dad into a pizza or anything else outside of our house and offered to cook. Blackened cube steak sounded good.

I had no idea what blackening seasoning was, but I knew it looked red and then turned black. What seasoning in our pantry looks red? Lawry's seasoned salt, of course! I poured about 1 cup of the seasoning in a plate to dredge the steaks in. I got the skillet ready (medium heat is as high as I ever go--lesson learned) and dredged the steaks in the salt. They fried up great...looked just like blackened meat.
"Here you go Dad." "What's this?" "Blackened cube steak." "Bl...ack...ened? Do you know how to do that? I didn't think we had the stuff to do that." "OHHH YEAH we had everything we needed." Dad's first bite was also his last. "PFFFFSSSTD This is horrible, it tastes like crap." He was right, it was horrible. The steak tasted like a salt lick, nothing but pure salt. It was disgusting. "Don't try that again--ever, ok son?" "Ok Dad."
I'll have to get Mildred to tell you about the time I convinced her to corrupt her delicious, mouth-watering cherry cobbler. I feel a guest post coming...are you up to it Mil?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Don Juan named Ronald

My sister was always very concerned about her image and her status in the whole scheme of high school life. She was determined to run with a crowd that met her high standards of living, even though we were not "of means" like the kids she wanted to run with. She had a lot of friends and got into her fair share of trouble... those are stories for another day.

When sis started dating she set her sights on the boys who were of means, regardless of their 'coolness." One such stud was a boy named Ronald (picture the love child of Dudley Moore and the guy from Mad it? Ok, moving on.) Ronald's dad owned one of the nicest department stores in Neosho, they carried very nice clothes and my parents would never spend what the clothes in that store cost. He just so happened to attend our church, too. Bonus! Mom and Dad would let her "go out" with a good church boy from school whose parents owned a department store downtown.

The first date that sis went on with Ronald was a hay ride for church. It was Fall, the air was cool and crisp with the smell of fallen leaves filling the air...the beauty of scents that stir up the memories of fall were far out weighed by the dense, thick, heavy odor of that wagon full of hormonal teenagers looking to get whatever they could get. Ronald was among the hopeful. See, sis had been kind of flirty at school which automatically leads a hormonal boy to the conclusion that "she" is a doorknob--everyone gets a turn! What they didn't know is that sis was about as far away from being easy as you could get. She was a prude, with a sharp left hook!

As Ronald and sis snuck off to the seclusion of darkness I'm sure he was ready for his night of 1,000 pleasures with all of his hopes and dreams coming true through my sister. He did manage to kiss her, but when his hands thought they were the yellow pages and he would let his fingers do some walking, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING!" She put the kibosh on that boy's dreams lickity split. She was not giving up anything to him, let a lone anyone else who hadn't proposed and married her! Poor Ronald dejected and let down went back to the wagon with shattered dreams and a date that had the pursed lips of disapproval. Sis can give you a cold stare that would cause the sun to shutter!

Back at school on Monday, Ronald began to spin a tale, a huge false tale that put him in the club of "men" those men who flexed their muscle and showed their girl a thing or two about how the west was one. Yep, ol' Ron had his way with, "that Spoon girl" and then dumped her. One more notch in the belt of the Don Juan, named Ronald. The only problem with his plan was the fact that gossip when planted in fertile soil will grow like a weed, think Seamore's pet in Little Shop of Horrors. The rumor came back to sis, she was devastated. The devastation lasted for approximately 45 seconds before the rage set in. She was hot! When sis is hot, she gets revenge no holds barred!

One of her best friends at the time was Karen, a very ornery gal I must say. She and Karen really got into some doosies. Well...they cooked up this plan to get Ronald back, and good. All they needed was a night that we, Mom, Dad, and me, were gone...Friday night, our weekly trip to Joplin took hours.

"Ronald?...hey this is Lesa...good...say I was thinking about the, don't be sorry because I've been thinking that I was wrong to turn you away...right...what are you doing tonight? Mom, Dad, and Will are gone, you could come over if you wanted too....10 minutes great...wear something sexy." The trap was set! Ronald lived just up the hill from us. He ran as fast as he could to our house and made it in like 8 minutes.

Our house on Pineville Road was great. We had a big back yard, with a nice patio and sliding glass doors. The patio led into our den area which had a two step entrance into our laundry room, which connected to our kitchen. There was also a two step entrance into our formal living room which lead to our kitchen. Basically it was one big connecting circle.

Sis had put on a shirt and shorts...then a robe to make it look like she was naked. Karen was going to hide in the laundry room and run back up for Sis if ol' hormone tried to make a break for back door. Oh yes...there was a pistol and a shotgun involved. Sis had my Dad's Reuger in her robe and Karen had Dad's shotgun and hid in the laundry room. They were going to get him and get him good!

Ronald made it to the house in record time, driven no doubt by his pent up hormonal teenage charisma. "Hey beautiful...pant, pant, pant...came as quick as I could. So no one is home?" "Nope, not a soul come on look nice tonight." "Let's go into the den and get comfortable, I'm going to go to the bathroom, get comfortable." "OK, beautiful." As tiger bounded off onto an adventure into the 100 acre wood, so did ol' ron bounce into the den and strip down to his bikini briefs. RED SATIN BIKINIS.

When Lesa saw him standing there in all of his dorky glory is was all she could do not to bust out laughing, but she had a plan to execute. "Ronald...before we get started I have a question to ask." "OK, anything, you can ask me anything." "Well, do you know who started the rumor that you and I slept together at the hayride?" "What? no, I don't' know, let's not talk let's just get started." "Well, it's been bothering me because you and I both know that nothing happened on that hay ride, and well...I know it was you who spread the rumor." "I wouldn't do that to you beautiful." "Oh yes you would, you wanted to look good didn't you, you wanted your friends to think you took advantage of me and had your way with me, I now exactly what and why you did what you did. You pig. I'm going to get you back for it and tonight's the night."

That's when she pulled the Reuger out of her robe and pointed it straight at him. I'm sure, sure Ronald emptied his contents right their on the spot! "Oh my Gosh, Lesa, holy cow, now wait a minute here, I was only joking, I didn't mean it, honest. Is that thing loaded?" "It can get the job done. Do you know how embarrassing that was to me? Do you have any idea how mad I am and hurt I am that you ruined my reputation?" "I'm so sorry. I'll go fix it on Monday I promise, I swear I'll fix it, please don't' kill me, please."

It was at that point that Ronald decided to make a run for the back door. As he was running toward the door, Karen leaped from the laundry room holding the shot gun, "HA! Don't move creep!" "OH crap!" Ronald was standing in our den, wearing nothing but red satin bikini underwear as two girls were holding him hostage at gun point.

Karen was a tough ol' gal. She was a tomboy deluxe. Played softball, basketball, I think she might have played football if the coaches would have let her. She looked like the love child of Erin Moran (Jonie from happy days) during the perm years, and Andre the giant. Not a beautiful person, but no one ever said anything because she would beat the crap out of you.

"Please don't kill me, please don't kill me I'll do anything, please." He was crying and convinced that Lesa and Karen were going to shoot first and ask questions later. "You better go back to school on Monday and tell everyone you know that you didn't do anything to me, I'm letting you go this time, but if I ever hear about you talking about me behind my back again, I won't let you go." "OK, thank you, oh crap, thank you."

Lesa and Karen watched Ronald run home, up the hill in his red satin bikini underwear as he was trying to hold his clothes. The laughed and laughed and laughed. Ol' Ronald had been punk'd by the best and would never forget that night again.

He did as he said and tried to reverse the story, but the damage had been done. Sis was a marked woman, but she didn't care because she would start dating my future brother-in-law soon anyway.

There were times that Karen and Lesa would look at Ronald during church and close one eye, raise their gun fingers in the air and mouth, "bang." His eyes would get as big as silver dollars and he would turn away.

I can still laugh out loud as I think of this story. It never gets old or tired, I just love it. I have a beautiful mental picture of every second as it ticked away, and just love every detail. I wonder if old Ronald ever met anyone, he probably made darn sure they didn't own a gun!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Six Years...just yesterday

Tomorrow marks the sixth year of the 9/11 attack. Hard to believe that it was that long ago. That day started just as any other day in my very routing life. Kendra was working at Kelle-Harvel Elementary, and I was getting ready to leave. As was my custom I watched the Today show from my bathroom mirror. I could get ready and watch everything in reverse, even while showering. There were times that I would get sucked in and be late to the office, but I was usually on task. 9/11/01 would be a totally different story though.

I can remember hearing Katie bringing the latest breaking news of a building that had crashed into the World Trade Center--shocking. Then she and Matt went on to talk about how a plane had flown into the Empire State building in 1945, so while not unheard of it was still an unusual event. That is when the camera went to the live video and showed the tower smoldering and puking out it's black smoke. I will for as long as I live never forget what I saw Matt Lauer was talking I saw a black dot rise from the bottom right of my TV and slowly crawl up until WHAM! the second plane crashed into the second tower. "Oh my God...another plane has hit the World Trade Center...this is not an accident." Matt and Katie were exactly right it wasn't an accident and I wasn't moving from my spot.

I couldn't move...I was frozen as I watched the TV and yet I was reliving what I had just witnessed--the crash. I couldn't believe what I had seen and couldn't believe that there could be such a blatant attack on our soil. I remember the cold wave of sorrow and fear rush over my body and knowing that life as I had known it one minute ago would never again be. I was in the middle of the making of an historical event. What was I doing? Just standing there frozen in my bedroom. The news feed of course went straight to full on 24/7 coverage and they brought in Tom Browkaw to handle the heavy hitting news since the morning folks couldn't handle such a big story. I wanted Matt and Katie to be with me and comfort my Psyche, but Tom would do.

I called Kendra, and my family to make sure they were aware and as tuned into this story as I was and of course, they were. Then I did what I always do when such an event occurs...I called Mildred. There was no one else alive who could hang with me through rambling conversations and anecdotal comments. My sweet wife is not a phone chatter and couldn't talk since she was at school. We would have been planted on the couch in our PJ's watching this unfold had it been any other day. As the government flexed it's muscle in an effort to abate any further attack, shutting down US airspace for the first time in aviation history, etc. and the news reports continue with covering this disaster. Then, almost one hour later..."we've just received word that a plane has struck the Pentagon...another plane has struck our nation--we are under attack." Our Nation was under attack and I was beginning to panic. I can remember real fear coming over me. Would I see tanks on my street? Would I see armed military guards marching into my neighborhood? What in the sam hill would I use to defend myself in the event of a house by house invasion? I didn't own a gun? I didn't have stores of supplies built up to the point that I could survive on my own--I am totally dependant upon the food industry to supply my needs. I could break down all of the wood furniture in my house and burn it..did I own matches? I was really starting to get keyed up. Mildred assured me that I was being totally ridiculous and should just calm down, she was right.

After the plane in Shanksville crashed and the news assured me that the skies were safe I felt that at least the worst of the attacks were over and that now it would just be the horrible and awful task of living through this nightmare. Buildings around the Trade Centers were collapsing now (both towers ha already come down) and they were talking about the firefighters that were in the buildings doing search and rescue and all of the people who were lost. I just could not get in touch with the absolute desolate fear that the folks in New York must have been feeling. I could not come into contact with how I was feeling let alone how they were feeling. It wasn't in my backyard, but hundreds of miles away and yet I just could not come to grips with it.

I can still find myself riffling through all of the images in an effort to somehow wrap my brain around it and yet just can't seem to come to grips with it at all. It was an unbelievable day, actually the rest of the month was unbelievable as I saturated myself with the stories and listened to the stories of the survivors who lived through these horrid days. Teensy and the boys are all post 9/11 babies and will only know about this in the history books. What events of their life will mark them forever? What events will they look back upon and recall in real time as if it were actually unfolding. It's wishful thinking to hope that nothing like "this" will ever happen again, it will. Kendra and I just hope and pray that our sweet cherubs aren't involved in any other capacity other than spectator.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Encounters at the counter

There are times that fate really plays games with me. When I'm in the biggest hurry I always have to travel down my two-lane road behind a dump truck happy to be in 2nd gear. I have a knack for finding the slowest and longest of lines, or getting in a check out line that is being manned by someone who is volunteering at the register and has no clue what is going on or how to operate a register, it never fails.

Monday I had some shopping to do for a reception at the Preschool today (Boo-Hoo Woo-Hoo brunch) and ventured out to my favorite store, Target. I usually have good luck at this store and am always happy that they have a Starbucks in house (did you know they have clip on cup holders for the carts? oh yeah ask next time) for my slow browsing pleasure. I love looking at all the stuff and checking out the clearance items, so fun. I was able to pick up all the things I needed in a fairly short amount of time which is unusual for me since I get lost looking at all the new stuff or just looking period. I've never been one to get in and get out, I meander and wander, yeah even saunter through the aisles and the departments that don't have anything to do with my mission.

At the check out I hit a snag. The gal in front of me had made all of her purchases (can power bars and soy milk really make THAT much of a difference in our life?) and was ready to pay, "can I pay part of this in cash and put the rest on my card?" "Uhhh...sure...I think you much do you want to put in cash?" "$35 then the rest on the card." I'm patiently waiting when all of a sudden, "Ma'am the card was declined." Swipe. "Ma'am the card was declined." Swipe. "Ma'am the card isn't working, would you like to try another card?" "No, this one should work, I can't figure out what is wrong." "I'll try at my register." Swipe. "I"m sorry it isn't working." That is when the universe stopped. She just stood there contemplating her fate and wondering what her next move would be. "Well...try this one." Swipe. "Sorry ma'am." "This one." Swipe "NO." "Well, I don't know what to do." The clerk cancelled or suspended the transaction until the gal could get her act together and allow me to check out. By this time I had memorized all of the items on the last minute temptation rack. The gal went to an ATM close to the register and swiped that card at least 20 times. It was beginning to get funny.

"How are you today sir?" "Good and you." "Well..." Oh boy this person has obviously taken license to actually tell me how she is when all I really intended to say was, "Fine thanks. Here's my stuff I'm ready to go." "I'm so tired. room mate sprained her ankle and couldn't walk so....[my vision blurred and I was somewhat comatose] so we wound up at the ER from 11 until 6 and I had to be at work by 9 so that's why I'm really tired." " have to watch out for those ER's." "Are you getting ready for a social occasion?" Not only was this clerk a person who actually divulged all of the woes and burdens of her life upon the folks who just want to hear, "fine' and move on down the road, but she was a nosy checker at that. "Sort of I'm getting ready for a reception at my kid's preschool." "Oh great, how many kids do you have?" "Three." "Aw, how sweet. What kind of reception is it?" You would be proud of me because I at no point in this conversation spoke through my teeth although I wanted to. " A boy that's five, another two, and my daughter is 9 months." By then my stuff was checked and it was pay time. "Thanks have fun at your social." 'You be sure and get some rest...see ya."

I wasn't ten feet away from my lane when I heard, "Oh...I'm tired. See my room mate..." That woman had no idea what she had stepped into. Even if the Waste truck of fate has dumped it's payload on my lap and I've had the most horrible of days I always just say, "fine thanks." and move on down the road. It's really more of a courtesy than a concern for one's fellow man. Shouldn't we all just put on that happy face and move on down the road, "fine thanks."