Monday, December 26, 2011

Holiday Greenery

The whole thing started innocently enough. It always does. I have a friend in a nearby city who makes floral arrangements pretty enough to paint. She encouraged me to try my hand at it and quoted a professional who spoke to her garden club. "Just go out in the yard and cut what you have to fill in your arrangements," he told the women.

That might work for the speaker and even for the members of the garden club, but there's nothing appropriate growing in my yard. This advice did, however, plant a seed in my subconscious, and an idea gradually began to sprout. This past fall as I drove around tending to family business and running errands, I began to notice untrimmed greenery growing in public places.

I spent an entire afternoon one day a week before Christmas driving all over my side of town. Armed with my garden shears and heavy duty gloves, I gathered branches from neglected spots.

Cedars with bright blue berries were growing along the railroad track. Magnolia leaves were the easiest to locate. There are a number of older condominium complexes in the area with branches growing over their brick fences and hanging within easy reach of anyone standing on the public sidewalk. Several different species of holly grow behind local stores along the back of their employees' parking lot. Another source of evergreen branches came from the bushes growing around the dumpster at the public library.

It was great fun. I came home with a car full of branches and berries and Christmas cheer.

My ancestors were known as raiders and horse thieves in the old country. I have no trouble maintaining the family tradition. A creative life style adds adventure to what would otherwise be a mundane suburban existence.

This spring I will visit some of the holly bushes and trees to scatter holly tone around their roots. Next fall their leaves will be a deeper green. Fertilizing the neglected plants is also part of the family tradition. It's called maintaining the source.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Checking My Traps

It was two days before Christmas in a Memphis suburb. My holiday preparations were pretty well under control. I needed a couple of small items from the grocery and decided to quickly check out one or two of my favorite shopping spots. I wanted to see if the prices on the holiday decorations had been marked down. A friend of mine calls this "checking your traps."

My first stop was the hobby store. I planned to make a floral arrangement for Christmas day and needed some supplies. As I entered the store, I saw the aisles of the gift wrap and ribbons were crowded with other bargain hunters. The floral side of the store was almost empty. I walked down the main aisle and spotted a salesman. He seemed to twitch all over and reeked of cigarette smoke. I asked for a "doohickey" I needed for my floral arrangement.

Another woman rounded the corner of the same aisle 30 seconds later. She found the salesman bent double at the waist and biting the edge of one index finger. I was standing beside him, patting him soothingly on the shoulder and murmuring, "Just two more days, it will allllll be over in two more days."

My next stop was the grocery store across the street. Once in a while you can find something unique or nice houseplants on sale just before Christmas. Everyone who wasn't at the hobby store was grocery shopping. Many were from out of town.

You can always spot the out of towners in the grocery store during the holidays. They're the ones wearing proper coats and boots with wool scarves and sturdy gloves poking out of a pocket. Memphians don't dress for cold weather. The typical Southerner will don a light weight jacket, leave it unbuttoned and run from the car to the store. They rely on complaints about the weather for warmth.

There was a traffic jam in the cereal aisle. One little boy about six was seriously considering his selection. An older woman, probably his grandmother, was supervising. He pulled a particularly sugar-packed specimen from the shelf and announced, "My dad buys me this one." The fib was so big it could barely fit between his lips. His grandmother gave him a level look. "Well, some times he does." the child murmured and hung his head.

His grandmother and I exchanged a glance. She sighed. It was Christmas. She knew his parents never bought junky cereals and that most of it would be thrown out after the holiday. "Just get the smallest box they have." she said.

There was a little girl sitting in the shopping cart in front of me as I stood in the check out line. She was close to the same age as the boy in the cereal aisle. Her long blond hair hung in ringlets. She wore an unbuttoned fake leopard skin coat. Her legs were bare and her feet were loosely stuck in plastic shoes with no socks. The temperature outside hovered around the freezing mark.


She was happily playing with a new toy. The torn box was discarded in a corner of the cart. Another shopper admired the it. "Where did you find that?" she asked the mother. "It's just down that aisle in the whining section." she replied and pointed in a general direction.

The two women proceeded to discuss the child in the cart. I didn't try to follow the conversation, but apparently she had been a menopausal baby. The mother was driving kindergarten carpool for a second time and enjoying it less. Confessional style conversation between strangers is common in this part of the country.

At that moment, someone the mother knew walked past. She hailed him and called out, "The egg nog is down that aisle." Then she covered her mouth with one hand and her eyes got big and round. She momentarily left the child in the cart with the other women in line to watch and held a quick almost whispered conversation with her friend. She gave the impression that not everyone in her social circle approves of social drinking.

We all know what one fundamentalist says to another when they meet in the liquor store; absolutely nothing.

I left the shopping area for the short drive home. I didn't find anything on sale that appealed to me, but I was warmed all the way home with the Christmas memories I collected. It was a most profitable outing.

Merry Christmas,
Jackie Lee

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wrapping Paper

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I grew up in Bastrop County, Texas, but married a "boy" I met at the University of Texas at Austin. We wound up living the corporate life away from my family roots. The years were divided between Tennessee and New Jersey. The contrast between the three states has been interesting. That's an understated diplomatic description.

Our earliest years were spent in Memphis. There I was blessed to share my first two pregnancies with another young woman I met at the OB/Gyn office. We bonded while seated in the doctor's office comparing symptoms and background stories.

Although we're both eldest daughters, Kathy has the dominant personality. She's also a native Memphian with great managerial skills and useful connections.

One of her brothers is a traveling salesman. Kathy researched and found the best prices for formula in her brother's territory. He regularly brought cases home for both of us. Her father managed a pasta factory. We had pasta in every shape imaginable for consumption and toddler art projects. My husband worked for a pharmaceutical company that manufactured several over the counter products. He kept us all supplied with sweetener and suntan lotion.

Kathy's best connection was through her husband, Al, who was a graphic designer for Cleo Wrap. Cleo made those boxes of valentines the children swap every February and Christmas wrapping paper.

Al was a big beautiful man with chestnut hair and full beard who claimed he was from L.A. That's "lower Arkansas" to the uninitiated. He was the only person I've ever known who could use the word "rotogravure" properly in a sentence. It was his responsibility to be sure the colors were correct and to sign off on the design before it could be printed.

A few feet or inches of the first run would be printed and then torn off the machine and taken to another part of the plant for inspection. The approved first runs were carefully rolled around a cardboard cylinder. Several samples would be placed on the same roll before it was set aside and another begun. These rolls would then be given to anyone in the office willing to take them home.

Al had been well trained by his frugal wife. He always brought rolls home to Kathy who shared them with her extended family and many of her friends. I took the sizable mound of holiday wrap in my attic for granted. The only disadvantage was that you never knew how big the top piece was going to be or what to expect in the next layer. He left Cleo in the early '80's, but it took me years to use up my "mystery" wrap.

Al dropped dead one August evening about 14 years ago. He was diabetic and faithfully following the proper regime, but diabetics don't have predictable symptoms preceding heart attacks. One evening the family enjoyed an uneventful dinner; three hours later Al was an organ donor.

Kathy is a paragon of strength and practical to the core. She said all that talk about adrenalin setting in during an emergency is baloney. It's totally impossible to give mouth to mouth resuscitation and phone 911 at the same time.

This is the time of the year as we prepare for Christmas when the "holes" in our lives make themselves most apparent. The "holes" are created by the loss of those we've loved. The hope provided by the birth of Christ is that they are at peace in a better place. Those of us still living are left with treasured memories and our faith.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Raiders and Horse Thieves

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm from Bastrop County, Texas, and am currently writing a memoir of the years I spent as a child on a cattle ranch there.

I spent last night re-writing the rough draft. I've come to the realization that there isn't room in the book for all my favorite family stories.

My favorite is the story of my triple great grandmother, Grandma Wamel. Grandma had a penchant for the letter W. Her first husband was William Warfield Watts. The exact details of her life have not been handed down in the family. Apparently, there were those in the generations between hers and mine that felt some of them were scandalous and best forgotten.

Grandma was the victim of a frontier divorce. Her husband just walked away leaving her in Kentucky with a boy to raise on her own. Her sister also disappeared about the same time. Women didn't work outside the home back then. Her options for supporting herself and her son were limited. Grandma decided the best thing to do would be to move to Texas and make a new life for herself and her child.

Even though they took the train, it wasn't an easy trip. Her son managed to get himself kicked in the face by a horse or mule at a stop somewhere in Louisiana. Grandma had to leave him there with the doctor. That boy was my great grandfather, William Perry Watts.

He stayed with the doctor in Louisiana for a year. The broken jaw refused to heal. The doctor finally removed it. The bottom teeth that were connected to the jaw were also history.

William Perry joined his mother in Bastrop County. She married again. This husband's name was Wamel. They had a son. William Perry started working as a teamster moving cattle to San Antonio when he was 11. The term "teamster" came from driving cattle.

Grandma's second son was a toddler when word came that a new family had moved into the county. Their name was Watts. Sure enough. It was Grandma's first husband "married" to her sister.

There were two options for handling this situation. The first would be to face her first husband and her sister and shoot at least one of them. They both needed killin'. The other was to take the high road and ignore them. Grandma chose the latter. She knew them both well and figured they deserved each other.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Friday, December 2, 2011

Orange

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I was born in Bastrop County, Texas, and have been a Tennessee resident most of my adult life. Orange is one of my least favorite colors. I feel almost unpatriotic making this confession. Orange is the school color for both the University of Texas at Austin where I earned most of my degree and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

A major percentage of the people residing in both these states are of Irish or Scotch Irish descent. Orange is not a becoming color to those of us with fair complexions. It makes us look plain awful or dead.

Even though I don't care for it, orange was a major part of my surroundings for the first 20 years or so of my married life. We had no furniture when we bought our first house. There was an excellent sale at what was then Goldsmith's Department Store on an iron table and chairs. They were orange. This purchase required a touch of orange in the kitchen to blend it with the rest of the house. Some of you may recall the vinyl-backed wallpaper in the bamboo trellis design with flowers climbing it. My flowers were orange.

We had four children in 11 years with that wallpaper. It was during this time that I decided orange may be the color of insanity.

I was finally able to sell the table and chairs at a garage sale. The top was fake wood. The buyer it took it apart to transport it. We turned the top over to load it and found numberless catsup tracks where people had wiped their hands on the underneath side of the table. I wish I could say they were all child size. I'm afraid one of the adults in our household set the trend.

Then there was the time my car died during the cusp between last year's and next year's new car models. I bought the last Ford stationwagon on the lot. The salesman described its color as butterscotch. One man's butterscotch is another woman's orange, but there was an advantage to that model and color. It was the car our two older daughters drove back and forth to high school. It was not a "cool" car. I hope it kept them from "dragging."

The first year they drove it, our eldest was attending one Catholic girls' school while her sister went to the other. Of course the schools were rivals. Our eldest has the attitude of a first born. She would pull up in the drive of the rival school in the orange station wagon and honk her horn for her younger sister. It's a wonder she lived to graduate.

Ten years later we were well established in New Jersey. One of the women among our circle of friends in the local bridge club was a sculptor. I begged her to show me her work and then begged to be allowed to buy a piece. She refused. A couple of years later she came back to me with an offer. She was about to become a grandmother and wanted me to make a quilt for the new baby. It had to have a dog theme. She would trade me a piece of sculpture for a quilt.

She offered to let me choose the piece from her collection when it came time for the swap. I refused. I knew she was emotionally attached to most of her pieces and didn't want to take one of her favorites. I told her to bring me the piece she wanted me to have.

She brought me two pieces. One is a black horse's head. The other is a beautiful young woman. Of course she's nude. She's sitting with her legs beneath her. The detail in the piece is magnificent. Her hair is braided in cornrows. She's perfect. And she's orange.

The sculptor loved the nude and was most proud of the stone. She told me in great detail about where she found it in New York City and how she had to haul it up a flight of stairs out of a basement to get it home.

My sense of humor got the best of me. I love the piece. I thought all sculpture was done in beige or black or maybe pink, but orange? I couldn't help but laugh to myself. I still smile every time I look at it.

The orange goddess sets on a bureau in our guest room. Our grandsons are 7 and 10. Her nudity embarrasses them. They dress her in a t-shirt when they come to sleep over. I'm still not overly fond of the color, but dearly love the memories.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Friday, November 25, 2011

Billy

My husband's eldest brother died in World War II. He was 20. My husband was nine months. He's been dead now twice as long as he lived, but memories of Billy are repeated at every family gathering.

I have the letter my father-in-law wrote his son just before Billy was shipped over seas. It's filled with family news and written on notebook paper. It closes with "I know you'll acquit yourself well." The understated emotion behind this sentence always brings a lump to my throat.

Billy was a bombardier. His plane was hit over Belgium. The crew had been trained for this possibility. There was a proper procedure for parachuting out of the plane, but one of the crew got tangled up in the webbing of his seat. Billy and another crew member worked to free him and pushed him out. The burning plane tilted sharply in the next instance and threw Billy away from the door.

Billy was listed as "Missing in Action" for over a year. His parents went to New York City on a sales trip during that time. They bought tickets for "Oklahoma", but my father-in-law couldn't stand to watch it. He said the sight of all those young men singing and dancing on the stage was more than he could bear.

Billy's mates who survived spent months in a prisoner of war camp. When the war ended one of them wrote my in-laws with the details of their fatal mission. No one was surprised. Billy had been the quiet one in a boisterous family; always supportive and never the center of attention.

I have a picture of one of Billy's great-nephews walking through the cemetery in Belgium in search of his grave. It's a snowy day with black clouds and fog. Row after row of white crosses stand in a field of snow. The black figure of my nephew is in the far distance walking with his head down as he reads the names on the crosses.

Billy died before I was born. I've learned to love him from the family stories so frequently repeated. The older I grow, the more dear this photograph and the framed letter become. Billy was a low-key tender hearted kid who died and became a family legend.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Isn't That Lovely?

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I grew up on a cattle ranch in Bastrop County, Texas. I spent my childhood watching where I walked to avoid the excrement of animals.

My adult life has been spent in the suburbs as a corporate wife where I dealt with the verbal version of "BS" on a daily basis.

Our mother taught us to really listen to people; to study their body language and facial expressions, consider the situation, and determine what the speaker really meant. Many were saying, "After my family and I get a little more than our fair share out of life, everyone else should be treated equally."

Truman Capote said boring people are fascinating. Sit and study and listen to them. Just what is it that makes them so boring?

My husband's profession occasionally required my presence at business functions where I knew no one and had little in common with anyone. I learned to enjoy meeting strangers. Most of the time it was a positive experience.

Once in a while I was caught in a dull spot and had to listen and act interested when I would rather have been at home cleaning the oven. "Isn't that lovely" and "Bless your heart" were two diplomatic statements I frequently used. Both are noncommittal but provide the appearance of a two sided conversation.

I found myself in one extreme situation years ago when someone cornered me in the gate at an airport. I was forced to devise a one player game. It was a matter of survival. I called the game "Give 'em enough rope." The object was to see how long the speaker would dominate the conversation with anecdotes from their personal life without once asking me a question.

It was two hours and 15 plus minutes of torture. Good manners can only be stretched so far. If there's ever another time like that one, I'll develop a highly contagious intestinal bug and go hide in the women's room.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Young Lady

You know you're over the hill when a salesman or waiter addresses you as "young lady." You're obviously an old woman in his eyes, and he's trying to be flattering. It happened to me this morning, twice.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chocolate Pecan Pie

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I grew up in Cedar Creek, Texas. They grow the best pecans there.

One of my high school buddies sent me a package of whole shelled pecans last week. They arrived just in time to "participate" in a special project.

Our third daughter lives in New Jersey and will not be with us for Thanksgiving. Her favorite Southern food is pecan pie. It isn't just any old pecan pie. It's chocolate pecan pie with praline liquor flavoring.

I baked the pie last Thursday night and left it to cool over night. First thing Friday morning I double wrapped it in foil and put it in the freezer. That afternoon I packed it carefully in a disposable pie carrier with strips of bubble wrap and shipped it to New Jersey via UPS.

The weather is in our favor. The pie is traveling in cold weather and will still be fresh when it arrives some time today.

The $18.00 it cost for shipping also bought a special memory. Pecans grown from the trees back home in Texas and baked in a pie in Tennessee to be eaten in New Jersey. People and the love they hold for one another make a home. In this case, the roots extend across half the country. But what can you expect from Texans?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Temp

My name is Jackie Ellis Stewart. I was born on a cattle ranch in south central Texas. No matter where I go or what I do, the values ingrained in me as a child always manage to crop up. (Pun intended.). A long-time friend once said, "You'll always have mud between your toes." It pains me to admit she was right.

When my husband was transferred to New Jersey in the early 1990's, my children were old enough for me to consider re-entering the workforce. I started by signing up with a temporary agency that assigned me to a number of short-term jobs in large corporations.

Smith Kline Beecham was not happy with me as a temp receptionist. I admired an old barn on the property and made the thoughtless remark that it was obviously of historical significance. The company was thinking about closing that facility. Most of the people were in danger of losing their jobs. Their top research scientist had a stroke as a result of the stress. The last thing they needed was someone from the state preservation commission interfering with their use of the property or its sale.

The twenty plus years I spent raising foyur children, registering voters, planning programs and fund raising for the church circle and conducting tours of one of the local museum houses were not adequate preparation for the real working world. I was eased out of Smith Kline Beecham and sent to replace another temp at a small software company. I was replacing another temp who had held this position  for over a year and loved it. The purpose of my assignment was merely to hold her place while she had minor surgery.

It took my husband and me two hours one Sunday afternoon to find the location of this assignment. It was a gigantic mansion in an historical residential area.

My new employer kept me standing on the front porch for ten minutes the next morning before he answered the door. He was dressed in blue jeans with an open necked shirt and bare feet. He lead me up the stairs and through the bedroom wing of the house to my office in an attic closet.

I could feel my mother whirling in her grave as I followed this stranger, but I was over 45 and harbored no delusions regarding the man's intentions. He was obviously only interested in my computer skills and how many words a minute I could type. The other two employees were young men in their twenties who were thrilled with their working environment. I thought it was creepy.

About mid-morning I had to find my employer to answer a question, and after considerable searching, finally located him seated behind an ornate desk in the library. A massive painting hanging behind him of the president and chairman of the board of the company.

I was somewhat taken aback by the painting. It was of an Indian wearing magnificent robes in opulent surroundings. My new supervisor looked me straight in the eye and informed me that this company was financed by a Maharishi through his motel chain.

The rest of my day was spent fielding phone calls from creditors and opening the mail. There were at least two letters from obviously elderly investors who wrote to express their continued belief and support in the company but needed to confirm the number of shares they owned.

I didn't have a cell phone. At the end of the day I drove home as quickly as possible to contact my employer. "If this company can't pay it's stationary bill, what makes you think they're going to be able to pay your fee?" I asked.

I then learned that despite the rigorous testing I'd undergone in regard to my computer skills, the temp agency had not bothered to give me any orientation regarding employee safety. The first rule was to not assign anyone to work in a building without identifying signage.

I ended the call with my resignation. I went to night school and became a medical transcriber. It was definitely a jump from the frying pan into the fire of managed health care.

I am relieved to be back in Memphis and categorized as retired by the Social Security Administration. (We all know housewives never retire.) I had to avoid too much real manure as a child to tolerate the figurative stuff as an adult.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stand on My Head and Stack Greased BBs

As an anal retentive eldest child, the ultimate goal of my life has been to be perfect and please all the people all the time.

It doesn't work. I'm too human to be perfect. I've also learned perfection is boring. It's the quirky behavior that makes a person interesting.

The chemistry between some people just doesn't mesh, and there are others who will not be pleased. It would be easier to stand on my head in a corner and stack greased bbs than to gain acceptance from someone determined to be distant.

 It's easy to get in the habit of trying to please all the people all the time. I was middle aged before I realized what I was doing and backed off from several relationships. It wasn't hard. I just assumed a polite but more distant approach. The results would have been comical had they not been so sad. One or two obviously missed the attention and were frustrated when I stopped "dancing attendance" on them. One came close to saying, "Get back over here. I'm not done abusing you."

I've lost a couple of people from my circle of friends and close acquaintances. There's a hole in my life where one or two once belonged, but perhaps they didn't belong there in the first place. I've also gained my self-respect.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

183 miles

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I grew up in central Texas but have spent most of my life away from home and the people and traditions that endeared it to me.

This past weekend three people I've known since the eighth grade along with two of their spouses came from back home to spend a long weekend with my husband and me. We had been anticipating and planning this expedition for months.

I rented a minivan for us to tour comfortably. I wanted everyone to be together as much as possible. I thought it was important for us to be in the same vehicle and have the same experience at the same time during the entire trip.

I was tempted to write "class of '64" across the side panel of the van in our school colors but got lazy at the last minute. It would be too much trouble to have to wash the van before returning it to the rental agent. Old age must really be catching up with me. I didn't even make my former classmates sing the old fight song as we sped along the interstate.

Our first stop was Graceland where the husband of one of my former classmates did not try to hide the tears he shed at Elvis's grave. The plastic flowers and weather-worn teddy bears were appropriate symbols for an entertainer with roots in the local housing projects.

We had all been just a few years younger than Elvis and had grown up with the excitement of his persona and the development of rock 'n roll. Now we are on the cusp of being elderly and realize how much we lost when he died at 42. We were all cheated terribly by his isolated life-style and drug addiction.

We drove from Graceland to Sun Records and took turns having our picture taken behind the microphone used by Elvis and Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel watching the ducks parade from the lobby fountain to their nightly nest on the roof.

The next morning we visited the Stax Museum. Blacks and Caucasians worked there side by side on every level creating music until the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King made everyone conscious of their racial differences. It ended the Stax era. The realization of what we lost sent me out in search of a Kleenex.

The rental agent spent considerable time inspecting the van's body for possible damage and recorded the mileage when I returned it. "You only drove 183 miles." she announced with surprise in her voice and asked, "Where did you go?" Apparently, there's no odometer on Memory Lane.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pun du jour

I work hard to maintain a mature facade, but every once in a while the truth slips out.

Yesterday I visited momentarily after a round at the bridge table with a woman who recently endured carpal tunnel surgery. She's greatly improved but somewhat miffed that a man in our bridge club had one of his arms in a bright blue cast the same time as her hand was bandaged, and he got all the sympathy.

She was obviously outcast.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Rock

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm writing this blog about the experiences I've had living in three different parts of the country, central Texas, western Tennessee, and north central New Jersey. My goal is to hone my writing skills. I recently wrote a memoir of my childhood on a cattle ranch in central Texas. Now I'm "smoothing out the rough patches" in my compositon. Blogging is good writing practice.

My husband's health took a decline at the turn of the century, and he was forced to quit working. It was a challenge to find something to occupy his mind that wouldn't be beyond his physical capabilities.

The first few months were devoted to the paperwork required by the retirement process. From there, he moved on to get our family affairs in order.

We bought four cemetery plots before we moved from Tennessee to New Jersey. My husband insisted on buying ones located close to his deceased relatives.

The only ones available are on the very side of the road. Our children will be able to make drive by visitations to our graves. They'll be able to open the car window and toss a wreath over the corner of the tombstone without coming to a complete stop.

My husband was on a roll after getting all the family records in good order and decided to select a double headstone for our cemetery plot. I foolishly assumed he would pick a small marker, one the caretakers could literally mow over, in a subtle gray or brown.

I was so happy he was busy that I didn't ask for any details. I assumed he would be browsing through the Bible and various books of quotations for weeks to select the ideal quote for our headstone. I should have known better.

My husband was in the legal department of an international pharmaceutical corporation. Most of his time was spent on the phone. His first instinct when faced with a problem or project is to grab the phone. This was no exception.

He had the stone ordered within a week. The information to be carved on the monument became the hot topic for dinner conversation. My beloved spouse wants the information on his side of the marker to include his full name and nickname along with his date of birth and death, his academic degrees, and his family lineage for three or four generations. His will be the only marker in all of Shelby County with a small phrase in parenthesis at the bottom. It will read: to be continued on the other side.

I was working part-time and keeping house and helping to organize a wedding during this selection process. The next time I was in Memphis, I took a friend and drove out to see where I was to be buried.

We had no difficulty finding the plot. The marker is about three feet tall and so shiny it glows in the dark. I sat in the car with the motor idling and my mouth ajar in shock. My friend leaned over and soothingly patted my hand, "I know it's a shock the first time you see your name on a tomb stone." she sympathized.

"Oh, that doesn't bother me." I wailed. "But it's the only day glow marker in the cemetery, and that bothers me. Oh, well. I'll be under it and won't have to look at it day in and day out. In a 100 years or so perhaps some of the shine will have worn away."

The moral to this story is to never assume anyting from a spouse, no matter how long you've been married. If you do, you too might have to spend eternity under a great shiny black rock.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Plots

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. Although I grew up in a farming and ranching community in central Texas, I wound up a corporate wife in Memphis, TN. The company was re-structured in the early ’90’s, and my husband’s department was transferred to New Jersey.

Timing is everything. Our first and second daughters completed high school in two successive years with the second one finishing in the spring prior to our move. They stayed down South to complete their educations.

I worked hard to get our family organized for the move. I collected copies of all birth certificates, baptism certificates, and our marriage license; copies of the two younger children’s medical records were transferred. I even contacted the high school to get the summer reading list for our third daughter.

I demanded we select burial plots before the move. It was one major emotional decision I did not want to make in the throes of a family crisis from half way across the country.

My demand was ignored. I was not to be deterred and phoned the volunteer superintendent of the cemetery back in Cedar Creek, Texas. He was a distant relative and informed me that since my family had contributed part of the land for the cemetery, I was entitled to four plots free of charge. I announced this at dinner that evening.

The next Saturday we met with the superintendent of Calvary Cemetery in Memphis. My husband insisted on starting a tour of the facility in the older section where all his relatives are interred. When he was informed the section was filled, he looked around and demanded, “Are all these plots paid for?”

I didn’t like the tone of this conversation. I had visions of some indigent soul being dug up and double bagged to be put out by the mail box. It would be hard to thumb a ride to Potters’ Field from in there.

“Oh, yes.” responded the superintendent. “This is one of the most popular sections.
People are dying to get in here.”

It was an interesting visit despite the ghoulish humor. I learned its hard to keep track of the empty plots in an old cemetery; especially if the terrain is rolling. Gravity pulls all the coffins and vaults down the hill. Everything looks in complete order above ground while below there’s a major traffic jam at the base of every incline.

My husband was finally convinced and agreed to buy four plots in the next section over. There was a man buried three plots from the ones we selected who had lived three doors down from us for 20 years. It seemed an appropriate selection.

We bumped along for two or three years without further consideration of our choice, until one Christmas when my husband took the children out to Calvary during the Christmas holiday. He stopped at the office to visit with the secretary. She let it slip that our plots were in the Irish Gypsy section of Calvary.

The Irish Gypsies are a large extended family of itinerant petty thieves who prey on the elderly and ignorant with bogus roof and paving repairs. They roam the countryside during the summer and winter in the mid-south. Their taste in headstones runs to grandiose pink marble. Women feud over deceased men. Beads are hung on headstones and candles burned. It would be a lively place to spend eternity.

My husband’s attitude was “there goes the neighborhood.” He spent more time at the Calvary office until he found someone willing to sell him four plots closer to his family. We owned eight plots in Calvary for several months and wondered if we were the largest landowners there.

In one respect, I can understand why my husband wanted to be buried close to family. It will make it easier for future generations to locate us all if we’re near the same spot. But there’s always more than one aspect to every situation.

My mother-in-law was a formidable lady. She lived a Horatio Alger life and served as the president and chairman of the board of a company in the 1950’s when most women were just beginning to work in the typing pool. I admired her greatly but must admit she never liked me much. Why spend eternity where you’re not welcome? There would never be a dull moment a little farther down the hill with the gypsies.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Business Card

I had the quick print shop design a business card to promote my blog. It's a tiny photo of me with the message: "My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. It would be a fine name had I the talent and inclination to either sing rock 'n roll or wrestle professionally."

One of my daughters eagerly took my last one. She later explained to her father that she wanted it to share with her psychologist.

My children and grandchildren will not lack for something to talk about at my wake.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Friday, October 21, 2011

Adult Education

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I was born and raised in central Texas but have spent most of my life struggling to behave as an adult in western Tennessee and north central New Jersey. I love to take continuing education classes. I always learn something valuable from every class, but it isn't always what the teacher intended.

Basket weaving taught me that if I'm going to spend that much time with my hands in water, I might as well stay home and clean house.

I took the classes to become a certified medical transcriber when we moved to New Jersey. The first thing I learned is that I can't bear to spend entire days at a time typing in a corner.

I learned that I hear and speak in an accent. I transcribed for a radiologist with a Spanish accent for a week once on temporary assignment. At the end of one particularly long day, he began to describe a prostate patient as a 70 something year-old "re-doer." I listened three or four times to this paragraph and couldn't figure out what the doctor meant. So I stopped there and spent the rest of my required time reviewing and revising what I'd done for the day. The next morning I listened to the tape again. The doctor was describing an elderly "widower." Duh!

The medical terminology class taught me there's no correlation between the size of a man's feet or nose or hands with any other part of his body; however, a deep voice indicates a high testosterone level. Gives you a whole different perspective on Tennessee Ernie Ford, doesn't it?

The women on the bowling team in New Jersey dared me to take a class in stand up comedy. The class would have made a great sit com. The teacher was as New York as Jerry Seinfeld but with a thicker accent. He had also recently gained considerable weight. His jeans were so tight he had to remove the wallet from his back pocket to sit in a student's desk.

There were a dozen or so young men in the class ranging in age from 25 to 32 or so. They were all there to be funny and risque. Their primary goal was to talk about women's body parts and use the ultimate F word. You should have seen their faces when I walked in. I was wearing my sensible shoes and carrying my tote. I never go any where without a book and my knitting in case I have some "down time." God forbid, I should spend a few moments with either my hands or my mind unoccupied.

I would always tell when someone was going to talk dirty. The students couldn't look at me, but the teacher would get right in my face to emphasize his daring vocabulary.

This class taught me that I spent too many years teaching my children proper behavior to do stand up. It's too late for me. I'm not comfortable standing in front of a crowd and saying things like, "I don't understand why the Catholic Church is so uptight about the practice of birth control. Just because you practice something, doesn't make you any good at it."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ooops

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm a migratory grandmother. I commute back and forth between Memphis, TN, and Basking Ridge, NJ, at irregular intervals to maintain a presence in the lives of my children and grandchildren.

My husband's job took us to New Jersey in 1991. We have learned New Jersey and Mississippi are the two most unappreciated states in the union. This is okay with them. The status quo has served them well.

Most people think of Newark and organized crime and the Garden State Parkway when the conversation turns to New Jersey. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are more horses in New Jersey than in Kentucky or Texas. Most of the state is beautiful rolling countryside.

Basking Ridge is a colonial-circa village. An oak tree in the church yard in the center of the town was a sapling when Columbus discovered America. It's rumored that Molly Pitcher is buried beside it. The cemetery closest to the church is crowded with colonial graves. The headstones are covered with clear plastic in winter to protect them from severe temperatures. It looks as though they're prepared for safe sex.

My knitting guru who lives in Memphis has a son-in-law who was working at the time for a company who owned an apartment in New York City. My friend was coming up to visit her daughter in Connecticut and was going to spend a night in the apartment. She invited me to take the train to the city and spend the night with her and see a play. We would spend the next day shopping for fabric and notions in the garment district.

I packed a gown and toothbrush in a tote bag and walked down the hill from my house to the train station. I never felt more urbane. The tote was slung over my shoulder where my handbag usually rides. I sat on a bench with the tote over my shoulder and my purse on the platform beside me and read a book while waiting for the train.

When the train arrived, I boarded and left my handbag on the platform. I realized my blunder as soon as it was too late to go back for it. The conductor could have been one of my children. He gave me a free ride to the next station and said, "Take the next train back. Tell the conductor what happened. He'll give you a free pass. Tell your husband you were mugged."

My husband would never believe I was mugged. He knows I sound and act so differently from anyone an eastern mugger has ever encountered I would probably be able to avoid any problem. God protects the extremely eccentric.

There was a coffee shop at the next station. As I stood on the platform waiting for the train back to Basking Ridge, I noticed a policeman sitting in the coffee shop with a woman quietly sharing a piece of pie. I interrupted with a request for him to have his dispatcher contact the police in Basking Ridge and have them go to the station and look for my purse.

Basking Ridge is a small place. The police department has spells of under-employment. A dead squirrel in the middle of the street can require the attention of two patrol cars on a quiet day.

I arrived back in Basking Ridge to find two marked cars and four young policemen searching the platform. One was fanny up in the garbage can. There was no handbag. They were kind enough to give me a ride home in the squad car.

I quickly learned why I would never be a successful criminal. You have to ride in the back seat of the squad car. The seat isn't padded. The doors only open from the outside. The windows don't roll down. I barf when I have to ride in the back.

A neighbor had a key to my house. I immediately got on the phone, called my friend, and then cancelled my credit card. In less than an hour we received a call from the district manager of the railway system. He had visited our train station moments after I boarded the train and found my purse on the platform.

First thing the next morning, I was at his office in one of the larger towns a half hour or so from Basking Ridge. I took him two bottles of red wine in appreciation. It's such a small world. I wasn't surprised to learn he was born in Nashville, TN.

The big urban world isn't always a cruel place. But I do have to admit my guardian angel regularly works over time.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

So Many Good Books, So Little Time

My name is Jackie Ellis Stewart, and I'm on the Grandmother's Circuit between New Jersey and Tennessee. I usually take the four o'clock flight and leave extra early for the airport. It's one of my favorite places to read. On two separate occasions, I'm mortified to confess I was in such a hurry to get to my book that I sat in the wrong terminal and missed my flight. If you miss a flight, it gives you even more time to read.

This is the part of the trip where I'm rushing around cramming everything into boxes and suitcases. UPS is one of my favorite partners in crime. I always stop there on my way to the airport to send my dirty clothes and books on ahead. It's a good thing knitting doesn't have an odometer. Isn't that what they call the gizmo that calculates the number of miles you've covered?

Two books have come to my attention in the packing process. "The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n Roll" by Preston Lauterback is the story of how the music played by the descendants of slaves became rock 'n roll.

Remember when rock 'n roll first started and the ministers preached against that sinful sound? In the 1930's and '40's "rockin'" in the Black community was a euphemism for the ultimate deed. Live and learn.

The other book that was brought to my attention is "The Time It Never Rained". There's a history making drought going on in Texas right now. Those of you in that part of the country might want to investigate this one.

When I get back to my next post, I promise to get more organized in my blogging and establish some sort of schedule. In the meantime, if you've read a good book and want to share the title, please add a comment to my blog.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Shot the Bird

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm a gypsy. I migrate between Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and Memphis, Tennessee, hot on the grandmother trail. I don't care how high the snow is piled in Jersey in January. I'll be there if my granddaughter invites me or if my daughter needs me. It can't be too hot in Memphis if one of my grandsons is playing in a ball game. I'll be there with my folding chair and camera.

Motherhood is the most guilt-ridden profession. No matter what you do, you're gonna make a mistake and warp a small child's psyche. I was kicked upstairs to the position of grandmother about ten years ago. The job description is more flexible. I love watching the genes play out from one generation to another. Nut or fruit, the genes don't fall far from the tree.

I'll never get the award for Grandmother of the Year; not after my ten year-old grandson tattled on me for shooting the bird at someone in traffic. I forgot the children were in the back seat. Have you any idea how hard it is to stop the middle finger gesture in mid salute?

"Brooklyn" by Colm Toibin and "Rules of Civility" joined me on my latest trip. I thought "Brooklyn" was a simplistic story of a young immigrant girl until a little more than half way through the book when it seemed she was about to do something really dumb. I started skimming to see what was going to happen. The author hooked me when I wasn't looking.

"Confederates in the Attic" by Tony Horwitz will keep me company tomorrow when I move from one location to another. I've been working on "Of Human Bondage" by Somerset Maugham for over a month. Its not an easy read. I have a hard time relating to the main character, but I'm determined to keep it up. It has to get better. If there are some Somerset Maugham devotees out there who don't agree with me, please feel free to comment.

Happy reading,
Jackie Lee

Birthday Book Swap

A friend of mine is planning her next significant birthday. She wants all her friends to bring her a copy of their favorite book.

She turned to me and said, "But you don't need to bring me a copy of that book written by the young man who wrote only one book and then committed suicide. You know, it's the one his mother took to Walker Percy. He read it to get that obnoxious woman off his lawn, realized it was a gem, and took it to a publisher. It won the Pulitzer."

She was alluding to "The Confederacy of Dunces." It's one of the few books I've read more than once. I read it every two or three years for the love of a good story. The characters and story are unique and could only exist in New Orleans.

I've learned the story never changes, but my perspective does. As I grow older, I see and appreciate details and nuances I missed earlier.

I stumbled into a similar experience with "Death of a Salesman." We were required to read it as seniors in high school. What a waste of time. We were too young to appreciate the drama. We hadn't lived long enough.

It's like the good ole boy said to the painfully young minister, "You haven't sinned enough to preach."

As a senior citizen, I had the privilege of seeing it performed on Broadway. It's a powerful, heart wrenching play. I could understand why the man playing Willie Loman had to report to the emergency room periodically to control his high blood pressure.

What book or play resonates in your heart and mind and soul so strongly that you revisit it from time to time? Please leave me a comment. Let's talk books.

Happy reading,
Jackie Lee

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Paperbackswap.com

Do you like to read? Do you treat your books with respect? Do you have stacks of them around your house gathering dust? Would you mind sharing them with others?

Do you think there's something almost magical about getting mail?

If any of this appeals to you, please investigate paperbackswap.com. If you join, please tell them jnkfodstew@aol.com sent you.

Let's "talk books" please make a comment on this message and tell me what you're reading. Let me hear from you!

As always,
Jackie Lee

Moo

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I have always been enamoured of the printed word and loved to read and write. Right now I'm in the process of writing a memoir of my childhood on a cattle ranch. It's time to look ahead beyond this project, and that's where I need your help.

I've always been a book pusher. My favorite topic of conversation with anyone I meet is "what are you reading now or what have you read recently?". My new goal is to use this blog as a forum for book discussion groups.

The purpose of this Internet discussion group is multifaceted. We can exchange reading lists and discuss the selection process. We can exchange titles. I propose to establish a schedule to include discussion of classics, current fiction, mysteries, science fiction, old and new fluff. The potential is huge for a book fanatic.

If you belong to a book discussion group or know someone who is, please direct them to my blog. I need your comments. I've talked about myself long enough. It's time to "talk books."

I'll close now with my favorite book discussion story. There's a gal I know who belongs to a reading group of women in their forties and fifties. They all missed the Vietnam War and the hippie movement. My friend selected Jane Smiley's "Moo" for them to read. They were too young to understand it was a broad satire of college life in the sixties. It was a disastrous discussion. I'm not sure my friend has yet to live it down. Every time she suggests a book someone will look at her with an arched eyebrow and ask "Moo?"

Happy Reading.
Jackie Lee

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cupid Wore Green

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I've devoted my life to my family and keeping a path clear to the front door from the outside and the inside. That's not as easy as it may sound.

Retirement is not an option for a housewife, but with the children out on their own, my husband and I finally have some time to spend together. We've become enthusiastic duplicate bridge players. That sounds better than "we've lost our minds and become bridge nuts".

I will never be a great bridge player. I'm more interested in the people than in counting the cards and keeping track of what's been played.

The following is a true love story of one of the couples who played with us.

It was St. Patrick's Day, 1970. DeeDee was working her second job as a waitress at the Gilded Cage in Alexandria Louisiana. Her husband had left her for her best friend in the late sixties. She got $300. per month in child support to feed and house and clothe six children.

DeeDee has grit. She was determined to make it on her own. She worked days in a civil service job. At night, she waited tables at the Gilded Cage. She wore a red satin costume with fishnet stockings and a sweeping feather in her hair.

She was in a sharp mood on this particular night. The restaurant had a new cash register. The teenage cashier was terrified of the new machine and couldn't make it work. DeeDee was the only waitress who reported to work that night. The Kiwanas, all 38 of them, were holding their weekly dinner meeting in the back room. It was St. Patrick's Day. The place was packed with people who wanted to celebrate.

Bernard was across town working in his hotel room. An insurance firm had stationed him in Memphis, but he had temporarily established headquarters in Alexandria. It was centrally located in the state and made it easier for him to tend to business through-out his territory.

The walls of the room began to close around him about nine that night. He decided to take a short break. Bernard rarely patronized bars, but there was no other place to go for a brief respite. The first he tried played country music which didn't appeal to him. Someone there suggested the Gilded Cage.

By the time Bernard found a seat at the end of the bar at the Gilded Cage, DeeDee was caught up in serving food and drinks and running the register. She had had it!

Bernard watched her in action for a while. Then the next time she rounded his end of the bar, he offered to take her to dinner at the "finest restaurant" in town when she got off work. She was in no mood for fresh behavior and countered that the "best restaurant" was next door and closed the same time as the Gilded Cage. When she came within range of his voice again, he countered with an invitation for a drink after work. She accepted and immediately regretted it.

She passed the bartender on the way to turn in her order to the kitchen and asked him to "scare off" that stranger at the end of the bar. "Tell him I have six children and the teenagers are a real problem." she urged. The second half of that statement was a bald-faced lie.

Bernard was an only child. He had always longed to be part of a big family. The bartender's warning had the reverse effect. He figured any woman who could have six children and still display that much spunk was really interesting.

The drink date went extremely well. The next morning Bernard drove DeeDee and a couple of her children to visit a prospective college. He promised to return the following weekend.

The personnel at the Gilded Cage was a closely knit group. They watched out for each other. They didn't expect Bernard to keep his word and planned to take DeeDee out after work as a consolation.

Bernard had been working in a far part of the state all week. It was 11:30 before he reached the Gilded Cage, but he did make it. In fact, Bernard drove back to Alexandria to be with DeeDee for the next 33 consecutive weekends.

DeeDee consulted her children when Bernard proposed. Her eldest daughter spoke for all the children and said, "If it lasts two years, it will be worth it."

We met the Varneys in the Memphis duplicate bridge circuit. They played an intricate precision-style game guaranteed to puzzle rank beginners. It was a result of hours spent together on car trips in serious discussion. They had exactly the same number of master points because they only played with each other. Their obvious devotion was that of two adults. They had both been forced to cope with serious emotional and practical problems. The hard spots in both their earlier lives brought them even closer.

Bernard was a chain smoker. He passed away in the early 2000's. DeeDee still plays bridge and carries his picture in the front of her scorecard.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lost: One Silver Punchbowl

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm a reformed yarn and fabric addict. Although I've been to knitting camp, I am no longer in competition for the "she who dies owning the most yarn and/or fabric wins" competition. This decision was not reached easily or without great angst.

I still have a fairly respectable stash but am no yarn harlot. She secrets bags of yarn in the sleeves of coats hanging in the closet and in the freezer. Mine is stacked neatly in large plastic bins and in various plastic bags that are filed away close at hand with the pattern and needles in various closets through-out our house.

The goal of a knitter is multi-faceted. It's always nice to have something new to wear that you created yourself, but there's also the joy of handling the yarn and the near meditation rhythm of the knitting process. Knitting provides entertainment and solace as well as a garment.

Confession is good for the soul, and in this case, background material for the latest family mystery as well. As the wife of the youngest son, I was blessed with a number of family heirlooms when my mother-in-law passed on to the ultimate shopping experience on The Other Side. I'm guardian of the family punch bowl. It's silver with the ladle, cups and tray to match. I've been in the family 43 years and have seen it used four times.

I had an opportunity to use it this summer. The daughter of a woman who was in grammar school with my husband announced her first pregnancy. This girl was a modern bride and graciously declined all offers for bridal showers to be given in her honor. Without consulting either Emily Post or Miss Manners, I announced I was hosting a baby shower for the new grandmother to be, and if the new mother wanted to attend, she would be most welcome.

She accepted. Invitations were issued and the menu planned. I started looking for the punch bowl two weeks before the event with no success. I had the ladle and cups and tray but no bowl. I wound up having to borrow one.

That was early this summer. This weekend while changing out my clothes from one season to another and packing for a trip, I found the cursed thing. It was wrapped in a black plastic bag and lurking in the very back of a coat closet. It was also stuffed with knitting projects.

I immediately sent an e-mail to all three of my daughters because I knew how concerned they were with this gnarly quandary. My youngest daughter wrote back to her sisters and me requesting that I dig a bit deeper. She suggested Jimmy Hoffa might be lurking back there as well.

Our three daughters are all now mature women over thirty. I knew these people before they were born and the women who preceded them for two or three generations. It is such fun to watch the genes pass from one generation to another.

I'm a yarn and fabric and book person. One of my daughters is a designer shoes and handbag devotee. Earlier this week I invited her to help me select an informal handbag for the winter. She countered with an invitation for me to "shop" in her closet among her discards. I accepted and came away with two that should work fairly well. I did suggest that if she's going to be handing many more of her purchasees "up" instead of "down" that she might consider buying somewhat larger handbags.

I was the only one who found that remark amusing. Oh, how I miss my mother. She would find such joy in this next generation.


As always,
Jackie Lee

Sweet Romance

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I was born and reared in central Texas but married 43 years ago and moved first to western Tennessee and then north central New Jersey.

My husband and I are hugely sentimental and impractical when it comes to special occasions. Our 25th wedding anniversary is a prime example. We decided to celebrate by touring the Gettysburg battlefield. Our ten year-old son accompanied us to further enhance the ambiance. Our anniversary is in late August.

Neither of us is particularly adept with electronic equipment, but since it was such a special occasion, we decided to bring our new video camera.

The best view of the battlefield is at the top of a steep hill. My husband had polio as a child and has to lean on my shoulder to climb steps. Our son was running ahead of us. We had been struggling with the camera all day with no success. We had the on and off buttons confused and were using them in exactly the wrong order.

We didn't get any pictures of the battlefield; however, we did get a great recording of our conversation as we huffed and puffed our way to the top of the hill. The weather wasn't the only source of heat as we debated why the "dirty razzle frattzin' camera" didn't work.

Our son beat us to the top of the hill by several minutes. There was a statue standing on a tall base at the pinnacle of the hill. The base of it was molded to look like giant, craggy boulders. We reached the top in time to see our child scrambling up the base to stand by the statue. I could see there was a plaque at its feet and called out to the boy, "What does the plaque say?"

He reached the top and stood by the statue. The writing on the plaque faced away from the figure and was a challenge to read upside down. He haltingly called out across the wide expanse, "Please ..... do..... not.... climb ..... rocks."

As we walked back down the hill, I told my husband who won the war. I undiplomatically referred to it as the "Civil War" instead of "The Recent Unpleasantness." I also pledged to never again oblige when he asked, "Just run across that field and see what it says on that pile of cannon balls." The honeymoon was over.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Provincialism Is Like Real Estate

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I grew up way back in the country of central Texas and have spent most of my life masquerading as an urban adult in Memphis, TN, and Basking Ridge, NJ.

About 15 years ago this fall I spent two days trying to catch a plane from Newark to Memphis to help one of our daughters plan her wedding. High winds canceled my first flight.

I returned home early that evening to find every light in the house blazing and the phone ringing. It was our only son's teacher calling to report he hadn't done any work in her class the entire marking period. I took detailed notes of what he needed to do, refrained from asking why she hadn't called sooner and hung up assuring her he would catch up immediately if not sooner.

The kitchen I left in good order was a total wreck. All the food I had set aside for my son and his father to eat for the three days I planned to be away had been consumed by our son that afternoon after school. It's probably redundant to add he was 13 at the time.

I found The Boy in front of a blaring television in the basement. We had a heated discussion followed by a thorough search of most of the house for his missing work sheets and text book. We spent about two hours working to get his academic life in order. He adjourned for bed around ten. I was asleep immediately thereafter.

My husband was out of town on a business trip, and if the weather had cooperated, he would have been home before nine. I went to bed expecting him to be home some time the next day. I had not been in touch with him. He didn't know my flight had been re-scheduled.

Someone flopped down on our bed on top of my feet around midnight. It was my husband. He was really cute and apologetic about disturbing me until he realized it was me. Who else could have been asleep on my side of our bed? For one fleeting moment, he thought there was a stranger in his bed! I was too tired to get really annoyed with him. I suppose a man has the right to dream now and again after over 30 years of marriage. Either that or he'd been watching too many romantic comedies.

The next morning he took me and all my luggage back to the airport. We had commuted back and forth so often the baggage handlers knew us by name and always inquired about our family.

The atmosphere in the lobby of the Newark airport was greatly subdued. The cheerleaders who had been building human pyramids in the middle of the room last night were now curled up sleeping in a wad with arms and legs and various pieces of electronic equipment all jumbled together in one corner. Their chaperons stood over them with bags under their eyes big enough to check.

I made it to the proper gate without incident and was sitting there knitting when two men strutted up to the gate. One glance caused me to pray, "Dear Lord, you and I both know provincialism is like real estate. It's all about location. If those two cocky New York dudes are Memphis bound, please make sure they're carefully escorted by a native during their visit. Their demeanor is so arrogant. Don't let them stray from the beaten path. They were an open challenge to be knocked from their north eastern high horse. If they walked down my street, I would have to set my dog on them just for the joy of watching them run. Amen."

The plane going to Memphis was tiny. The two New Yorkers, employees of one of the broadcasting corporations, were seated directly behind me. They were Memphis bound to cover a basketball tournament. A young blond sat across the aisle from me. The broadcasters requested a glass of wine as the door closed for takeoff.

We taxied down the runway and sat for 15 minutes or so. The captain then announced the airport was on fire, and we were returning to the terminal. My hand immediately went up to request a glass of anything alcoholic.

The flight was smooth once we got off the ground. The girl across the aisle was also drinking. She worked for the same company as my husband and knew many of the same people. The Smooth Dudes back of me joined us in conversation just as we were reaching our destination.

It is at this point I must confess to having an extremely fair complexion. The rumor that I glow in the dark is a slight exaggeration; however, it only takes one glass of wine to make my nose red enough to light up a room.

My flight had been so terribly delayed I did not expect anyone to meet me at the airport. I walked off the plane with a good looking younger man on either side of me quizzing me about the places to visit and restaurants to frequent. A shocked voice rang out, "Mother, you've been drinking!" It was one of the most satisfying moments of my entire life.

I was "busted" by my daughter, the bride to be, who joined the group. As we walked towards the baggage claim, one of the men turned to my child and asked, "Where do you go in this town to meet women?"

My well-intentioned girl looked the men up and down and then in soft Southern tones told them where they could find the nicer looking "older" women. Her sweetly pointed remark was much more diplomatic and satisfying than setting the dog on them.

Newark Airport

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I was born in a farming and ranching community in deepest central Texas where my people had lived for the last three or four generations. A series of events generated by hormones lead me to Memphis, Tn, and from there to Basking Ridge, NJ, once the headquarters for AT&T.

Our two eldest children remained back in Memphis to continue their college educations when we were relocated. Just about the time we had settled in New Jersey, one of our daughters back down South announced her engagement.

It was a blustery fall day when I left Jersey for my first trip back to the Mid-South to help plan the wedding. I do not subscribe to the "packing light" school of thought in regard to travel.

A friend drove me to the airport. We did notice the wind was up but gave it no real thought. She had just pulled away from the airport when I realized there was a problem.

The winds were gusting up to 60 mph. The airport was closed. I was fifth or sixth in line to change my flight plans and had the questionable privilege of hearing every person in front of me take out all their frustrations on the airline agent. He was a skinny child; all Adam's apple and horn-rimmed glasses and bow tie.

I spread my paperwork out in front of me when I reached the counter and said, "All I want is to re-arrange my flight. I'm coming back in the morning, but first we need to talk." The clerk gripped the edge of the counter in preparation for another tirade.

I continued, "The airline cancelled the flight. Right?" The clerk nodded.

"You and I have no control over this situation, isn't that right?" I asked. Again, the clerk nodded.

"And the only reason the airline cancelled the fight was to keep from having to pick up these passengers in pieces out in some remote cornfield after the plane crashed. Isn't that right?" I asked. The clerk was beginning to look a little puzzled but nodded in agreement.

I went on, "Everyone in this airport knows that's the case. So, when people talk to you the way they've been doing this afternoon, no matter what words they use, what they're really saying is 'I'm the Nothern end of a Southern bound horse.' Isn't that right?"

There was a thoughtful pause while the clerk processed this new perspective. "Yes," he replied and gave me a huge toothy grin. "One moment, please ma'am. It will take me a while to arrange your flight."

He went to the back and was gone almost five minutes. "Here's your reservation for tomorrow morning. You've been so helpful I've bumped you up to first class." he announced.

I thanked him and turned away in search of a quiet place to make a phone call. A troop of cheerleaders were practicing their pyramid in the center lobby of the Newark airport. Two pre-adolescent boys had positioned themselves catty cornered from each other across the same space and were rolling a quarter between the feet of the cheerleaders to each other. The crowd was almost elbow to elbow around the edges of the space.

I carried an overloaded handbag, one stuffed carry-on bag, and one medium suitcase in my arms while pushing the bigger suitcase with my feet through the crowd. It took a while, but I finally made it outside with the smokers and baggage handlers where I phoned a neighobr to resuce me. My weekend schedule was ruined, but it was the beginning of a story that would be repeated in our family history for generations to come. The wedding would still take place. The children would be just as married.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What's wrong with this picture?

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm from Cedar Creek, Texas, but have spent most of my life in the foreign climates of western Tennessee and north central New Jersey. Life was fascinating in New Jersey where I learned there are four distinct seasons in every year. But I digress from my topic.

We moved around a bit during my childhood. My high school years were spent at Del Valle (pronounced dell valley)High, in Del Valle, Texas. It was a small school. When I was enrolled there the student body contained four girls who could twirl a baton.

My mother made me take twirling lessons with my sister. She thought it would be good for us. My sister took one class and refused to go back while I thought it was kinda fun. As far as the school was concerned, I had a baton and knew the big end from the little; therefore, I was a majorette.

Every year I was a majorette I had to spend a week during the summer in majorette camp at Sam Houston State Teachers' College in Huntsville, Texas. Preparation for the week was a major hassle. We stayed in a dorm on campus where it was against the rules to walk through the lobby wearing shorts. Every shorts set we wore required a co-ordinating wrap around skirt.

This was my first camp experience. I had lead an extremely sheltered life up to this point on a cattle ranch in the middle of no where. The few people I associated with were family or classmates.

My only other experience away from home and school up to this point had been a part-time job my parents required me to take in the summers. I had to work in the office of the Austin cattle auction barn where my father was one of the partners. It was in the time of pre-computers. Every animal sold required all sorts of paperwork. My assistance was required to post sales. Speed and accuracy were required. Although it was a stressful situation, everyone was extremely polite. No one ever used any questionable language.

This was not the case at majorette camp where the girls from Alvin, Texas, sat down with me and in colorful detail with the deepest east Texas accent, taught me every four letter word and its definition.

Their entire troop was extremely talented. They could curse without moving their lips which allowed them to cuss during half-time when the program wasn't going well.

We were all careful to conform to the skirts rule but removed them the moment we exited the dorm. All the girls walked from class to class swinging their batons and carrying their skirts folded carefully over one arm.

There were the nicest men landscaping the campus. They were all friendly and extremely polite and quick to strike up a conversation. Their all-white uniforms were also impressive. Huntsville is the location of a state prison, and the landscapers were trustees from there.

I don't suppose it mattered. We all looked good, and their language was beyond reproach.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mississippi

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm from Cedar Creek, Texas, but have spent most of my adult life in the foreign lands of Tennessee and New Jersey.

Our five year-old granddaughter who lives in New Jersey started kindergarten just after Labor Day. Her teacher is Mrs. O'Leary.

I knew the previous generation or two of this little girl's family. It's fascinating to see how the genes she's inherited are reflected in her behavior as well as her appearance. Her hair is so curly it can only be easily groomed when wet. She has the Ellis-shaped almond eyes. Her personality is a combination of both her maternal grandmothers. This child is not going to be president of anything. She'll be Ultimate Ruler, and her followers will love her.

Her two front bottom teeth are loose. Last weekend I played in a bridge tournament in Tunica, Mississippi, in one of the casinos there. I bought a refrigerator magnet for my granddaughter in the casino gift shop. The magnet is the word "Mississippi" spelled out in bright colors. As soon as she looses the first tooth, I'm sending her that magnet as a prize from the tooth fairy.

It gives me great pleasure to think of this little girl with her curly hair and purple sneakers lisping through the gaps in her teeth as she learns to spell MISSISSIPPI.

The simple pleasures in life are the best.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ancient Rumor Still Stinks

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm from Bastrop County, Texas, but have spent most of my life trying to act an adult in the urban areas of western Tennessee and north central New Jersey.

Once or twice a year I go back to visit family and friends in Texas. I like staying in touch with people who address me by my maiden name and knew me back when.

A couple of years ago I was sitting at the kitchen table of my favorite male relative in Cedar Creek, Texas. We each had a section of the Austin American Statesman and a cup of coffee in front of us. Our conversation was leisurely and punctuated by the rustling of the paper and quiet periods while we perused the print. He had the obituary section.

"Who is the secretary-treasurer of the cemetery association?" I asked. Our ancestors were among those who contributed land for the local cemeteries. A small group of citizens still work to maintain them and raise funds with a community-wide picnic held every Memorial Day weekend.

My relative mentioned a name I didn't know. "Who is she?" I asked.

"Oh, you know her. She was Mr. Putnam's secretary back when we were in school." he explained.

"Mr. Putnam was the Superintendent of Schools for Del Valle (pronounced dell valley). Why would I know his secretary?" I demanded.

My relative's face grew sly and mischevious. "Oh, Mr. Putnam and I were special friends." he replied.

"Okay," I responded. "It's been over 40 years since we graduated high school. What did you do? The statute of limitations has surely expired. Confess."

"Do you remember there was an auto repair shop back behind the cafeteria?" he asked.

"Well, I never went back there, but I was aware it was there along with the room where the Future Farmers of America met. Wasn't there a small practice farm behind the school?" I asked.

"You're right. That's a park now. Anyway, a good many of the boys who took those classes met back there to eat lunch and to sneak a smoke by the garbage cans that the shop class shared with the cafeteria. Everyone knew a family of skunks ate out of those cans." he continued.

This was beginning to get good. "Go on" I urged.

"Well," he grinned. "Someone caught a baby skunk in one of the garbage cans."

"How do you know this?" I asked.

"Do you remember Mr. Putnam's office was at the front of the campus and across the drive from the main building?" he went on.

The story is building. I'm getting anxious to hear the end of this. "Yes, yes." I urge.

"If you recall," he went on. "the windows in his office opened by swinging out rather than sliding up and down."

"Wait a minute," I demanded, "Del Valle was just across the highway from Bergstrom Air Force Base. You and I were there during the Bay of Pigs. Those airplanes parked within a few miles of us were loaded with enough bombs to blow half our country and most of Mexico off the map. Mr. Putnam didn't lock his windows?"

He shrugged and said, "Castro wasn't interested in Mr. Putnam. Why should he lock his office windows?"

I knew where this was going but had to hold up my end of the conversation, "Perhaps to protect his domain from mischief makers." I suggested.

"Well, where else would you put a perfectly good baby skunk? Such a rare opportunity shouldn't be wasted." he said, and I nodded with understanding.

"Whoever caught the baby skunk managed to get it across the campus. He pulled out one of the windows to the Superintendent's of School office and tossed the baby skunk inside and pushed the window closed." my favorite male relative chortled out the last few words and then gathering his composure went on, "Have you any idea how much damage one baby skunk can do in a weekend?"

"No, but do you?" I asked.

My question brought a big grin, "Let's just say I was brought in as one of the usual suspects." he said.

Did this really happen? Was my favorite male relative the guilty party? Who knows? Does it matter? All I can say for sure is that the story was shared with me in a combination of pride and regret. My favorite male relative was proud to be considered as the guilty party and regretful that someone else thought of it first.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Friday, September 23, 2011

Helmet Revenge

Greetings, salutations and hello. My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I was born in Bastrop County, Texas, but have spent most of my life in the contemporary corporate world of Memphis, TN, and Basking Ridge, NJ.

I enjoy walking and biking and gardening, but unfortunately, cooking and eating and reading and knitting and other sedentary activities appeal to me even more. All the sand is beginning to settle in the bottom of my hourglass figure.

Last year I set a new goal for my Golden Years. I want to keep my weight down low enough that the caregivers at The Home don't have to use a fork lift to move me.

With that in mind, I bought a bright Barbie pink bicycle to ride on the new series of bike trails Memphis has opened in the last year or so. The fall weather is perfect for it. I make a point to go out at least every other day for an hour or so.

A high school friend of mine who is a serious bike rider gave me a stiff lecture on the importance of wearing a helmet. It's to be worn squarely on the head and not set on the back at an angle.

My husband saw me wearing it and suggested it would be best to leave the helmet at home and just go to the hospital if I fall on my head.

My second daughter phoned me. "Mother, the boys and I were out yesterday and saw you streak by on your bike. Is that helmet really essential?" This is my child who as a toddler would often "forget" her underpanties and not mention it until we were out in public.

That call made my day. I love that Geeky helmet. It's now officially part of my persona. It offers minor payback for all the missed curfews and other mischief my children created. It will give them something to talk about at my wake. Life is good.

As always,
Jackie

Monday, September 19, 2011

Change the Names to Protect the Guilty

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I was born in Bastrop County, Texas, but have spent most of my life in Memphis, TN, birthing babies and struggling to keep a path clear to the front door. All the children are now grown. My current challenge is to keep a retired husband entertained and still maintain a life of my own. Duplicate bridge has given us a mutual interest and introduced us to a new lifestyle. Our schedules are now centered around the local club games and tournaments.

This weekend I played in a tournament in Mississippi with three friends from our local club. We spent the time between rounds getting better acquainted. One of our team is a retired insurance executive with an extremely agile, dry wit. She's now widowed with two sons who could not be more attentive; however, they have inherited their mother's sense of humor and tend to give her a hard time at the least provocation.

Every spring they roll up all the rugs in her condo and clean her hardwood floors. This year they teased her about the fine dust that had sifted down through the rugs and accumulated on the floors beneath.

Something a little more exciting will be waiting for them under the rugs next spring. One of the men on our team is going to buy a top of the line colored condom that glows in the dark and is flavored. We're now fine tuning the ambush. The other man on our team suggested that it be unwrapped and blown out like an old balloon.

It will be interesting to see how many phone calls this generates between our friend's sons and her brother and sister. Even if we forget and don't get around to planting the questionable object, we had a great time plotting. We will most definitely always remember the Tunica tournament of 2011. It really is the "Naughty Aughties" for some of us.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A New Jersey Adventure

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I was born in Bastrop County, Texas, but have spent most of my adult life in Memphis, Tennessee. I was among the last generation to wear a double first name indicative of the South and among the first of the Baby Boomers.

My husband has also spent his life on the cusp of our changing society. He chose to spend his entire career working for one company rather than changing positions every few years.

The company transferred his department to New Jersey in the early 1990's. The change was good for us in the long run but a major adjustment on too many levels to count.

One of the first hurdles to overcome was changing our driver's licenses from Tennessee to New Jersey. There is no reciprocity between the two states. The word went out among the company wives that the test was really hard.

One practical soul took the computerized multiple choice test and then marked the passages in her driver's manual that were on the test. It was handed on from household to household with variations in the test noted as it changed hands.

The booklet was almost a rag by the time it reached me. We moved from Tennessee to New Jersey in August. It was March of the next year before I stopped procrastinating and agreed to sit for the test. I only did it then because the insurance company threatened to discontinue my insurance.

My husband read the book through a couple of times to prepare for the test and only missed three questions. That was an extra dollop of pressure I really didn't need.

I spent two or three days walking around with that raggedy book in one hand and murmuring the correct answers to myself. On the morning of the test, I dressed with exta care to fortify my confidence. It was March. I wore a nice denimn skirt and blouse with flats and hose and my good leather jacket. I was perfectly attired for spring weather in the mid-south.

I got lost on the way to the testing center. It was blowing fine flakes of snow by the time I finally found it. Parking was a problem. I had to settle for a spot two or three blocks away. It wasn't difficult to find the testing center. It was the one surrounded by a line of burly men waiting to get inside.

It was the last day for all truck drivers in the state of New Jersey to take and pass the hazardous waste test required for a commercial license. Truck drivers choose that profession because they don't like to take tests. Those in line with me were not happy to be there. "Just how much is your sister?" asked the trucker in front of me of the man standing back of me. I could see the headlines of the daily Memphis newspaper in my mind's eye, "East Memphis Housewfie Caught in Truckers' Brawl."

The wind blew gusts of fine snow the entire four hours I stood outside waiting my turn. I spent all that time alternately standing on one leg with the other tucked under my skirt. I studied the book in a fierce frenzy and reached the interior of the center burning with determination to pass on the first time or take someone down with me.

I was so frantic to finish that it was over before I realized. I only missed one question. The official issuing my new license refused to let me keep my Tennessee license as a memento even though she'd punched it full of holes. It still had to be discarded. I almost cried. They were kind enough to let me cut in line to process my new license in time for me to run the afternoon carpool. I got lost on the way home too.

Back home I put the New Jeresy license plates on my stationwagon. The next morning I drove my high school freshman to meet the school bus. It was cold, and we were homesick. As the bus pulled up, my child opened her car door, poured the remants of her first glass of iced tea into the street and said, "I can't believe you put those plates on our car."

I knew what the child meant. It was a huge hurdle to leave one culture for another. I'd done it twice. It did leave me feeling a little like a traitor.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Little Red Desk

"I knew I could do it! I told your daddy I could, and he didn't believe me. I should have bought more." Mother almost crowed with delight as she removed her coat and untied the scarf from around her head.

It was a cold early evening in February, 1973. She stood in my entry hall surrounded by boxes and bundles. I hadn't been outside in days. The cold fresh air that followed her in the house smelled so good. Just having her walk through the door made me realize I could overcome my current challenge and live to savor another day.

Our second child was less than two weeks old. Her elder sister would be two in about a week. Our original plan had been for Mother to join us in Memphis when I came home from the hospital with the new baby, but a flu epidemic in Texas interfered with our plan. Mr. Si Simmons, one of the last of the elderly men who sat on the front porch of J. A. Martin's General Store back home in Cedar Creek, Texas, had died from it. Mother had been afraid to come for fear she would bring the flu germs on her clothes.

There was no one to help me. One of the most desperate moments of my life had been when I tried to take a shower. The new baby was asleep in the next room. I gave the toddler several toys before stepping into the shower, but she chose to bang on the shower door which woke the baby and made her scream. I hadn't had a shower since before I left the hospital. I stood under the hot spray just long enough to scrub the "pits" with tears and blood and milk mingling with despair and soapy water.

Somehow I made it through that day without a major incident, but I got up with the baby in the night and hemorrhaged. My husband was on the phone to Texas first thing the next morning begging Mother to come.

She phoned the local auction barn to consult my father, "Jackie must be in a bad way. Her husband just offered to buy my plane ticket. I need to get there as soon as possible."

The two year-old flushed something inappropriate down the toilet in the hall bathroom just before Mother arrived. I was too busy trying to clear a path to the door and get something put together for supper to worry about the constantly running toilet.

Mother was on a triumphant high. There was no direct flight from Crockett, Texas, to Memphis, Tennessee. She first had to drive to Tyler (rose capital of the U.S.) to catch a flight to Houston. The first plane was so small the passengers loaded their own luggage. She wanted us to see all the loot: eight complete place settings of china plus all the serving pieces including two platters and a tureen; an oil painting approximately three feet by two, and a first grade desk.

The local grocery where she shopped in Crockett had run a special on china. Every week a new piece was offered with any purchase above a certain amount. Mother still had a teenage boy at home and never had a problem reaching that amount. She also bought another set in a different pattern for my sister-in-law.

I cringed inside at the sight of the child's desk. A neighbor of mine had purchased an antique school desk for extra seating in her minuscule den. I had mentioned to Mother that I would love to have one like it. I meant a circa 1800's vintage with the hole cut in the writing surface for the inkwell. The one she brought was circa 1950's. She added insult to injury by "antiquing" the blessed thing fire engine red. I tried to hide my dismay with genuine compliments over the painting she brought. Mother was taking art lessons and demonstrated a real flair.

We stacked Mother's gifts in an out of the way spot and ate supper. I crawled between the covers of my bed immediately after the meal and listened to her begin to restore order in my household. My unhandy spouse and Mother huddled over the running toilet. There was a short discussion followed by the lifting of the top of the tank and a crash when they dropped it.

I fell asleep giggling. We were all safe. It was just a thing and could be replaced. Later I bought a cover for the toilet tank to conceal the break. It was a memento of an all too brief special occasion.

Mother could only stay five days. My father was an inveterate philanderer. She chose to ignore most of his misbehavior but was loath to stay away from home too long. My youngest brother was still in high school and "a hard dog to keep under the porch". It would be ten more years before we would learn he was hyper-active and attention deficit. Five days was just long enough for me to gain enough strength and confidence to assume my responsibilities.

On the second or third morning after she'd started the laundry and had the babies squared away, Mother and I sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. I don't recall how she worked the conversation up to it, but at one point she casually pointed out, "You know, Dear, your daddy has his really good cows wait three years between each calf."

She made her point. The only possible polite response was a quiet, "Yes, Ma'am".

When the baby was ten months old, I set about decorating the girls' bedroom. A friend and I painted three of the walls school bus yellow. The baby spent most of the day seated in a walker while we worked and still managed to get paint on the seat of her plastic pants. We papered the wall opposite the door in a Noah's ark pattern. The rug was multi-stripe in basic colors. The unfinished double dresser was $99 from an outlet store. I painted it white and splurged on shiny yellow round knobs. The bed spreads were blue. Their toy box was a big plastic green frog. A place was made for the red desk in one corner. It fit the decor perfectly.

We weren't quite as quick to add another child after having the first two so close together. Our third daughter arrived about four years later. I have the most delightful snapshot of our cat standing in a semi-crouched position on the foot of our bed sniffing down into the bassinet of the newborn. The message was clear, "You had me altered and then you did this?"

Mother's cancer diagnosis came just before we conceived the third child. It was my turn to work with a baby in the croock of one arm. I couldn't imagine life without my mother. The new baby represented hope for the future despite the painful present. Mother assured us that our pain at watching her die was harder than hers. "I have doctors to care for me," she said, "but there's no one to help all of you through this."

There's never enough time with a growing family to adequately savor the good moments or recuperate completely from the bad. I had to keep a close watch on the two older girls once the baby started sitting up and trying to interact with them. Her older sisters would use an old sash to tie her around the chest to the back of the desk for her to be the student when they played school. It was necessary to closely supervise their game to make sure they didn't keep the baby tied in that position too long.

An unusual education opportunity presented itself the summer the third girl turned two. All our children took swimming lessons every summer at what was then called Memphis State. That summer it was announced the campus school needed kindergarten aged children to fill a classroom for the student teachers to hone their skills. The next day the cry went out for children of any age to come to kindergarten. Even my two year-old was recruited. It's little wonder she has no memory of learning to write her name and grew up to be a kindergarten teacher.

The echo empty house we bought when our eldest was six months old was pretty much full five years later. It became even more crowded when the stork visited again in 1982 bringing us a little boy. He ws the first male child to reside in that house and the darling of the neighborhood. His sisters were all crazy about him during the day, but none wanted to share a bedroom with him at night.

Another low point in our permanent record was the time our eldest told her fifth grade teacher she didn't have her homework because she was up all night with her new baby brother. The teacher believed her and tried to call me to task for burdening my child with too much responsibility too soon. That woman was a veteran teacher and should have known better.

Serious negotiations among the girls lead to a cyclical agreement. They agreed to take turns sleeping in the room with the baby. Supper discussion would start with, "Whose turn is it to sleep with the baby?" There was rarely any argument in that regard. The next question to the baby's companion was always, "Where are you going to sleep?" Each girl had a favorite place some where in the house on the floor that they preferred to the bed in the nursery.

My husband refused to entertain any guilty feelings in this regard. He said, "In just four more years, the eldest will go away to college." A family filibuster was held, and he lost. The second den at the back of the house became the master bedroom. We added a bath and closet there and a breakfast room off the kitchen.

The back of the house was open to the elements in May that year during a heat wave. The baby and our third daughter broke out in chicken pox. When you're hot, your hot; when you're not, you're not.

The breakfast room was a delight. It was a rectangular room with an upright piano and book shelves along one side. A wall of windows and a glass door lead out to the patio with a privacy fence and the pool a few yards ahead beside the garage. Large hooks were attached to the privacy fence. The children could slip off their wet suits after swimming, hang the suit on the fence, and then either streak Au natural through the house or wrap themselves in a towel. There were frequent occasions in our family routine when clothing was optional.

The kitchen table and chairs occupied the middle of the room with a rocking chair in one corner. A small black and white television set on the counter of the built-in bookshelves with the little red desk angled in front of the television.

Our tow headed two year-old son ate his breakfast every morning while sitting in that desk watching the morning cartoons. He loved sunny side up fried eggs with toast cut into four triangles (butterflies). Tyrone, our black pekepoo, sat patiently beside him. Once the baby finished, he would set his Melmac plate with the He Man design on the floor for the dog to devour the leftovers.

On Sunday nights I would put the children to bed and sit in the red desk to watch "Masterpiece Theatre" while the football game continued in the den.

"Alf" was a popular television show when our son was four. On "Alf night" I would bathe him after supper and then walk him across the street dressed in his jammies and robe and slippers to watch the program with the retired woman across the street. Half an hour later, I would bring him home and put him to bed. Most all our friends and my husband's professional colleagues had moved from their first homes to larger houses in more fashionable neighborhoods. We could never justify the loss of our neighbors and the added expense for a bigger, more modern house.

All the children had outgrown the little red desk by the time my husband's position took us to New Jersey. It spent nearly 20 years in the storage room of the basement there.

I'm a cattleman's daughter. Financial prosperity scares me. I don't know how to behave when the economy is too good. When my husband suggested we invest in a second house in a suburb of Memphis, I jumped on it. I didn't care what the house looked like as long as the funds were not in the stock market.

We divided our furniture between the two houses, and the little red desk was included in the load to be re-located back down south. It set in the new hearth room off the kitchen. Our second daughter's two little boys sat there to play during visits to our house.

This summer it was time once again for the little red desk to change locations. I used a permanent marker to write the following inscription on the metal bottom before shipping it back to New Jersey:

Purchased by Virginia Lee McDaniel Ellis
Crockett, Texas, 1973.

The little red desk now sets in the dining room of my third daughter's house in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. My granddaughter who has my mother's eyes will sit in it this year to do her kindergarten homework.

Mother knew best by buying a modern desk for her grandchildren. In just two or three more generations it will be a genuine antique, but I'm still not too crazy about that red paint job.


As always,
Jackie Lee