Friday, May 14, 2010
I feel like I'm channelling Jane Espenson, but -- lunch was sharp cheddar on an onion kaiser with grape tomatoes. I'm still nibbling at the tomatoes, relishing that pop of sweet acid as the globe gives way. All the responsible foodies say one thing we have to change is returning to eating seasonally, which means tomatoes only in the warm months. Which is when they taste best anyhow. But it will be hard for me to give them up all year. They feel female and dialectic and Texan to my palate.
First letter I ever wrote to Liza Cowan was in 1977 to ask why she and Penny House had named their publishing venture Tomato Publications. First mail I ever got back from her was a hand-designed postcard which began, in classic Liza style, "Why not?"
Mama grew lovely tomatoes in the summer but her veggies of choice were snap beans and onions. She liked to slather thick slices of brown bread with butter and add slices of raw onion to make a sandwich she'd eat with iced coffee. I tried a bite when I was little and found it horrific. She said "Your taste changes as you grow up, don't worry about it." She was right on so many levels.
When we had buttermilk in the house, Mama would make fresh cornbread, crumble some into a jelly glass and fill it with buttermilk to eat like a dessert. She said it was a dish she'd seen her grandmother enjoy, farm gourmet fare. I wonder how many people in America still call the milk we buy in cartons "sweet milk" automatically to distinguish it from buttermilk? Or clabber milk -- how many of you out there have ever tasted clabber milk?
I can remember when milk first began coming in waxed paper cartons instead of glass. Mama resisted the paper containers as long as she could, saying it tasted better in glass. Now, except for a premium in natural food stores, our only option is plastic jugs.
Well, with the death of oil I guess we'll be returning to glass bottles. They were so useful, for making sun tea, or having a brief aquarium of pollywogs, or starting sprouts on the windowsill. One time I talked Mama into buying me a set of food colors at the grocery store and I spent a week mixing colored water in glass bottles, lining the windows of my room with them. That's how I learned color combining. They all went cloudy brown when the bacteria began growing, however.
It's important to remember that our flirtation with "factory food" is a brief experiment born of hubris and the need to keep post-WWI men from returning to farming. The notion that we can replace nature with monoculture -- that it could possibly be a good idea -- arises from patriarchal fear of that which they see as Not Male. Their fratboy g*d promised them dominion over the earth and sea, and they can't seem to get enough of exercising that dominion.
Well gird your loins, fellas. Literally. Because the tomato-lovers and glassblowers are massing in the courtyard. See you there.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
During the young years of their marriage, my parents moved often to small towns all over Texas and Louisiana, following my father's job. They had some money then, driving a late-model Chevy and using their vacation time to journey even more, visiting family here and there. But my father refused to shell out for restaurant food, so my mother packed sandwiches, pickles and pie to last the trip.
Daddy also hated to stop except when the car needed gas. He believed learning to "hold it" built character. Once my older brother passed the diaper stage, however, Mama pointed out a toddler simply wasn't capable of controlling their bodily functions for four hours at a stretch. Daddy's soluton was an empty Maryland Club coffee can in the back floorboard, that could be emptied at the next gas stop.
This practice was put to an unexpected test on a trip from Houma to Bowie when my parents were driving my grandmother Sook back home after an extended visit. Sook had a short fuse for nastiness, as she called it. When my brother had to use the can that afternoon, it turned into a #2 voiding, Mama assisting him in the back seat.
But it was winter and with the car windows rolled up, the odor from that can spread throughout the car. Sook, sitting in the front passenger seat, demanded my father find a place to pull over so it could be emptied, and my father kept refusing. Finally Sook rolled down her window, they thought to freeze out Daddy and force him to comply. Daddy set his jaw and ignored her, focusing on speeding up to pass a tractor-trailer rig.
Sook showed surprising agility by leaning over the seat, grabbing the offending can, and pivoting to hurl its contents out her open window without splashback. Unfortunately, she didn't notice the tractor-trailer rig now to her right and far enough behind our Chevy to take all of the coffee can's load -- so to speak -- full on the truck's windshield.
"Oops" said Sook. Mama, who told this story often, swore she would never forget the truckdriver's enraged face as he spit out his Skoal and pushed the accelerator to the floor while taking his first swerve at the Chevy. For the next half hour, Daddy tested the combustion ability of that newish car engine while Mama clung to my weeping brother and Sook leaned out the window trying to convey her apology via a sign language that Daddy said the truckdriver clearly interpreted as further derision.
They were finally rescued by the appearance of a rare hill on that two-lane blacktop, which slowed down the rig enough to allow Daddy to get far ahead. At the next town, he dove deep into a residential area and located a gas station on the outskirts, where everyone in the car used the facilites and Daddy restored his shot nerves with an unfiltered Camel followed by a bottle of Coke with Tom's peanuts poured into the neck.
After that, Daddy stopped when we had to go the restroom. He grumbled about it, but he pulled over.
Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.
(The Veil Nebula)
Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.
by C. K. Williams
There was nothing I could have done—
a flurry of blackbirds burst
from the weeds at the edge of a field
and one veered out into my wheel
and went under. I had a moment
to hope he'd emerge as sometimes
they will from beneath the back
of the car and fly off,
but I saw him behind on the roadbed,
the shadowless sail of a wing
lifted vainly from the clumsy
bundle of matter he'd become.
There was nothing I could have done,
though perhaps I was distracted:
I'd been listening to news of the war,
hearing that what we'd suspected
were lies had proved to be lies,
that many were dying for those lies,
but as usual now, it wouldn't matter.
I'd been thinking of Lincoln's
"...You can't fool all of the people
all of the time...," how I once
took comfort from the hope and trust
it implied, but no longer.
I had to slow down now,
a tractor hauling a load of hay
was approaching on the narrow lane.
The farmer and I gave way and waved:
the high-piled bales swayed
menacingly over my head but held.
Out in the harvested fields,
already disliked and raw,
more blackbirds, uncountable
clouds of them, rose, held
for an instant, then broke,
scattered as though by a gale.