Friday, December 24, 2010

In the Good-Ole Summertime


In the Good Old Summer Time
We walked to about the midway point in Ellisville's Varsity Theater and sat on the three end seats. Helen sat between Mama and me. It was Wednesday afternoon, five till four, and the movie would start any time after 4:00, depending on the arrival of the projectionist. All the stores in our little town had agreed to close at noon on Fridays during the three and a half months the schools were out for summer vacation. Even Daddy was relieved to have a good excuse to go out to the surrounding neighborhoods, visiting wit friends and customers who might have a cow or calf for sale: or, at least, know of somebody who did.

The war was now in its third year, and our greatly reduced-in-size family had grown accustomed to staying as close to each other as possible. Daddy, and the three of us clung to each other jealously. He, however, did not accompany us on our daily late-afternoon walks, nor did he consent to join us at the picture-show very often. George was now stationed in India, where he was a chaplain's assistant; Sammy had stayed in the States and was now stationed in Sioux City, Iowa He had recently married a beautiful young girl there. Herr name was Lorraine.  Anna was running Josephine's theater in Richton, while she and her husband, Bill Sibley, moved all over the state of Louisiana as he worked as a Drag-Line operator. Jimmy, Rosie's husband, had been sent to Attu, in the Aleutians, in what would prove to be his undoing as frostbite caused him to have his left leg amputated. He was in a veteran's hospital, at this time and Rosie was with him. As soon as I was seated, I knew there was something different about the tacky old theater. Mrs. Bishop, a widow, and the mother of my Civics teacher (Mary Eleanor) had been having a long string of bad luck recently: Rats had began walking boldly amongst the customers during the movies at night, and would eat the popcorn that fell out of the bags and lay there on the floor. Finally, when one of the town's most prominent citizens took off her shoes and drew her legs up under her on the seat, she let out a blood-curdling scream when she stuck her foot into one of the shoes, only to feel a huge rat had taken up residence there! Mrs. Bishop bought lots of rat poison, and it really did work: the only trouble was the odor of dead rats was so pronounced that even I had to stop going to the movies for two or three weeks until the air cleared a little.

I gazed at the screen and was amazed to see it changing colors like a Chameleon! Yellow, to green; then red; then blue and then the cycle would begin again. I turned my head and looked up and back at a small projector attached to the lower part of the balcony. The light emitted by this projector was given off as a circle of the different colored cellophane produced the colors on the screen. "How d'you like that?" I asked Helen.

"It's right tacky," was her matter-of-fact assessment.

Mama looked at it and smiled. "I sort of like it." She said.

"I do, too, Mama!" Of course if it had yellow it was a lead pipe cinch that I would automatically love it.

"Francis, what's that man's name?" Helen asked now, as someone walked briskly down the aisle across from our seats.

I looked up and could hardly believe my eyes: "Why, that's Garland Ross May!" I knew him instantly. He had been the manager of the theater in Richton before Josephine bought it. At that time, it had been owned by Mr. DeValle, who lived here in Ellisville.
"I thought he looked mighty familiar."

I remembered we had him out for supper once, after he had told Josephine that George and I could have free passes any time, from then on.

"I'll bet he's Miz Bishop's manager now," I mused aloud.

Just then, the house lights went off and the projectors could be heard humming. I always felt a little bit of excitement at that familiar sound. As usual, there were the previews of coming attractions, but the projectionist had failed to turn off the colored disks, and it seemed so strange to see black and white movies advertised in colors!

Warner Brothers' logo proclaimed that they were presenting Ann  Sheridan and Dennis Morgan in "Shine On, Harvest Moon". It turned out to be a fairly entertaining musical loosely based on the life of Nora Bays (a nightclub entertainer of the 1890's.)

"I'll bet the finale is in Technicolor," Helen whispered to me about halfway through the film.

"I'll bet it isn't!  I loved Technicolor and would suffer through almost any amount of boredom so long as it was colorful. I remember how disappointed I was when "How Green was my Valley" turned out not to be in color. I truly felt I had been deceived!

As usual, Helen was right. But I always felt that she had been told that little item by somebody who had seen it before we did.

We walked about a mile around our small home town before going home.

"What do y'all want for supper?" Helen posed the eternal question.

"Girl, it's too hot to cook," Mama said.

"Let's have sandwiches!" I said. I usually preferred these to hot meals in the summer months, too.

"Want me to make some pimento-cheese?" she asked.

"Oh, Boy! YES!"

Mama laughed. "That's too much trouble, Helen," she said.

"Not really! The only thing hard about it is cleaning the little grinder after we eat."

"I can do that," I would gladly do that small chore to get a pimento-cheese sandwich- or two!

Of course, before I could get around to keeping my promise, Mama had washed everything while Helen dried and put everything away. Daddy had returned just before we got home and had cooked a steak for his own supper. For once, I preferred that pimento cheese to a steak!

It's a sweet memory from my childhood..




Sunday, December 12, 2010

Helen (Quartet)

Helen (A String Quartet of Poignant Memories)



She was humming and singing the words, (when she knew them), to one of the newer songs on the radio. She and Josephine would sit with their heads literally buried in that piece of pretty fabric that covered the speaker of our treasured Philco radio, writing the words so they would be able to sing the songs as George accompanied them on the piano. Helen and Josephine loved to sing together, and I loved to listen to them. To me, they were as good as some of those singers on the radio, and better than a lot of them!

In her left hand, she was holding what looked like a wilted weed she must have pulled from the garden, and (in time with the song) she periodically slowly plucked bristles from it and let them fall languidly to the ground. I sat down beside her on the dirt and gravel that made up a sort of bridge across a gully the rain had washed out in the road.

"Hey, Anga. What cha doin'?"

"Oh, you'll find out soon enough."

I hated to be treated like that!

The humming was interrupted by a few words of the melody's lyrics: "Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed; 'cause tonight I've got to look my best- Lulu's back in town"

"Is that what that song is?" I loved the tune.

"Yeah, we've just about got all of it.'

They wrote the words in a notebook, in that beautiful script they both had. At the time, I felt sure that I would be able to master "The Palmer Method" of handwriting that had you doing something called "Ovals" when I started to school. I don't know why I thought I would be able when they and George (who could do just about anything he wanted to) were the only three of my siblings who wrote so magnificently. The rest of us did not compare.

Both of them would find pictures in magazines that they cut out and pasted on the pages with the lyrics. Most of the time you'd swear the pictures had been made for that exact purpose.*

Pluck, pluck: two more barbs hit the ground. Try as I would, I could see no logic to whatever she was creating.

My mind wandered back to the other times I had seen the girls using those tweezers: They often took turns plucking each other's eyebrows, One would lie on the bed, on her back, with her head in the other's lap. That was the sole purpose of these shiny silver tools, as far as I could tell.

They also would "do" each other's hair. Dipping a comb into a glass of water to make it hold. How well I remember coming into the room one evening when they were "playing beauty parlor", and picking up the glass, then took a big swig of it. Both of them screamed in horror at what I had done. Then when I fussed at them for letting me drink it, I thought they were going to die laughing!

So intent had my mind been with memories that I had forgotten what Helen was doing.

"There!" she handed me a lovely and delicate powder puff. It smelled almost as if it had talcum powder in it. She grinned as I sniffed her creation. Had she managed to add powder while I wasn't looking?


* George still has one of these interesting memorials.



We did a lot more eating outdoors when we were all young. Now, we are so accustomed to air-conditioning that none of us would even think about eating outside. When my house was still new, Ed Kohler created a nice patio with the leftover bricks from the house. He even made a fireplace. But, since the bricks were not meant for cooking, I was never able to cook out there. Nevertheless, I bought a table and chairs, so that it gave the illusion of being used. I remember on one of Muriel's visits, she insisted we eat a meal on the patio. Between the heat and the mosquitoes, I have never had any desire to repeat the experience.

But as youngsters, we had Picnics galore; "Sunrise Breakfasts" and (my favorite) "Chicken Fries". I must admit, I never cared much for tramping through the woods at dawn, for a meal that lacked Mama's freshly baked biscuits. But the Chicken Fries were so much fun, and the food so wonderful that I consider their demise a national catastrophe.

Mama and Daddy never went with us into the woods, but they seemed to enjoy the fact that we seemed to be having such a good time.

I'll never forget one day when Helen asked if I'd like to go with her into the woods, looking for flowers or shrubs to dig up and transplant in our yard. She had always loved doing this, but usually she went alone. Of course, I would have followed her almost any place on earth.

I noticed that she had a basket of food. "Are we gonna have a picnic?" I asked hopefully.

"After I get something to put in our yard," was her reply.

"Oh, Boy! Just you and ME!" I could hardly contain my joy!

We walked on in silence, except for the singing of the birds and the sounds of bees buzzing. It was a gorgeous day in late March, already a spectacular spring day.

I saw it first, and I was so proud to point and say, "Look, Helen! That's a pretty yellow flower over there!"

"It is!" she said, quickening her pace. "Looks like one of those forsythia bushes!" She walked all the way around it. It wasn't very large, but was so very pretty. Of course, I have always loved just about anything that is yellow. "Here, hold onto this," handing me the picnic basket, "while I dig it up."

I watched as she carefully dug all around the bush, being careful not to damage the roots. The ground was still soft from the recent rain, and it did not take long before she held her healthy looking shrub so we could both admire it. "I'm gonna plant this right near the front fence," she said, "Here, you hang onto it, and hand me the basket."

We didn't find anything else that she deemed worthy of transplanting to our yard, so she found a good dry spot in a clearing and sat down on the ground. I dropped down across from her and she opened the basket. I was dying to see what it contained! The first thing she took out was one of our most ragged bath towels. This was to be our tablecloth.  Next came several slices of Colonial Bread that she had wrapped in waxed paper (there was no plastic wrap to be had then). The next thing I saw took me completely by surprise: there were several slices of what looked like fried bacon, also wrapped in wax paper!

"If that bacon?" I gasped.

"You just wait and see!" She answered mysteriously.

She began placing the strips of bacon on the bread, and then brought forth sliced tomatoes and leaves of lettuce! She arranged this neatly, adding a sprinkling of salt and pepper (she had brought a small shaker of each).. Then, she added mayonnaise to one slice of the bread and placed that on top of one of the filled slices of bread. I know instinctively that this was my sandwich: she detested mayonnaise, just as both our parents did. But all of the rest of us loved it.

Reaching into the basket again, she came up with two bottles of Barqs Root Beer; the picnic lunch was complete. "Try your sandwich."

I bit tentatively into the soft white bread, tasting that first rapturous bite of my very first bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. I was thunderstruck!  "This is the best sandwich I ever tasted!"

She was just biting into hers. "Iddn't it delicious!"

I took a big swig of the warm root beer. I didn't even mind that it was not ice cold the way I liked them. "Where did you learn to make these things?"

"Oh, Daisy Stevens and Janie Murphy make them all the time!" she said matter-of-factly.

"Well, I feel like I could eat three or four more of them!"
"Not this time. Mama will be mad if we don't eat some of her Irish stew when we get home."

"Is that what we're havin' for dinner?"

She nodded, gathering everything up and putting it in the basket.

"I love Irish stew!"

I was well on my way to becoming a real chowhound.




The first time I heard Mama call Helen "Eagle Eye" was when we were shopping one afternoon, in Laurel at Carter-Heide's. The two of them had been delegated by George to pick out some new pants for him. At this stage of his existence, he refused to shop for himself. He vehemently hated having to "try on" anything, and having the salesman marking the clothing for alteration. Instead, he'd find a picture of the pants (or shirt, etc,) that hr wanted, and then it was up to Mama and one of our sisters (usually Helen, since she was the one who still lived at home) having to find the closest thing she could to the picture (cut out of Sears or "Monkey Ward" catalogs, or some magazine), buy the smallest size they had it in, and then alter it to fit his small frame, after they got it home. He was exceedingly demanding that it fit him like a glove.

On this particular day, the man whom George and I had dubbed "Curley" (because of the "old-timey" and "tacky" style he wore his flaming red, curly locks parted in the middle) was waiting on us. Mama had just about made up her mind about the second pair of trousers, when Helen whispered something to her.

The salesman was already reaching to take the pants and wrap the two pairs together, but Mama held on to them tightly. She took the left pant leg in her hand and examined it more closely. "By golly, you're right!" She then asked if they had another pair exactly like this one. "Curley" looked perplexed, but he walked to the rack and found a matching pair. Mama handed them to Helen, who looked at and approved of this pair.

While the purchases were being wrapped, Mama smiled at Helen, and said, "I always did say you've got an Eagle-Eye!" Helen had apparently seen a flaw in the material that was not in the second pair.

"If I'm gonna end up with a skirt made outa those pants, I sure as heck don't want a flaw in 'em!" she huffed. And poor Helen often wore "hand-me-downs", not only from three sisters, but often some of George's garments recycled as skirts or blouses.




What in the world was she doing? Here she was, sitting on the grass of our front lawn, spreading the green blades this way and that, searching for something. I flopped down beside her. "Now, you get up from there! Right this minute! You know how hard it is to get red bugs offa you!"

It was true. I had been forbidden to sir on the grass because I seemed to attract "Chiggers" like slop attracts hogs! I never could see the little mites, so miniscule were they: only Mama or Helen had the vision to detect them and pull them from my itching body. Both had "Eagle Eyes"!

I got up, reluctantly and stretched. I did not have to ask what she was doing. I knew all too well. She was searching for four-leaf clovers. And she never failed to find at least one every time she tried. I was so jealous of her ability to find these "Good Luck Charms" while I never could find even one!

"How long you been lookin' out here?" I asked, more to get her to converse with me than for an answer.

"Oh, I don't know, ten or fifteen minutes, I guess."

When she was doing anything, Helen would usually not allow herself to be distracted. And I was just as determined that she should talk with me.

"What's this thing Sammy an' George were tawkin' about this morning?"

"When?" She did not sound the least bit interested.

"While we were eatin' breakfast."

She looked up then, suddenly I had her interest.

"Here!" she handed me one.

I took it and hoped it would have only three leaves, as all of mine did. But I should have known: it was a perfect example of Four-Leaf Clover: worthy of being on a 4H Club sign!