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


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,

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

Thursday, September 8, 2011

He was raised right!

It was a hot summer day in Memphis, TN. An elderly woman pushed her overflowing basket of groceries out to her almost antique car where she was greeted by a man with a gun demanding her car keys.

She pulled herself up to her fullest height of 4'11' and responded, "You can't leave me out here in this heat with all these groceries. Take me home and then you can have the car."

The thief loaded her groceries in the car, drove her home, and stacked the bags of food neatly on her front porch before driving away.

He was a criminal, but someone taught him good manners and respect for his elders.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Sunday, September 4, 2011


It was Christmas morning, 1956. We lived in a log cabin. One room was habitable in winter. Mother and my brother and sister and I were trying to quietly celebrate the holiday and savor what Santa had brought without disturbing our father who was sleeping across the room.

As we began to pick up the wrapping paper to adjourn for breakfast, he rolled over and addressed my brother, "Go out in the truck and bring your mother the envelope in the glove compartment." Mother's eyes lite up. Last year she gave him dress slacks while he brought her a new ironing board.

The envelope contained a letter from the Hereford Breeders' Association welcoming Mother to their group. Our father had bought a registered bull. It was currently up the road at his parent's waiting to meet us. "You want a new house. We have to improve the herd to afford it." our father reasoned before rolling back over to nap a while longer.

We named him Christmas. Unfortunately, his personality did not match our aspirations. Christmas didn't like cows. He preferred to hang out with the other bulls. We felt sorry for the poor fella but in our innocence, had no idea the complexity of his problem. There isn't much room in this world for a gay breeding animal.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Friday, September 2, 2011

Put That Down and Back Away Slowly

Mother was a tall, hyper-thyroid woman with a vicious punny sense of humor. Her favorite partner in crime was Alice, a 4' X 4' (that's four feet tall and four feet around) lady, who was ever ready to ride shotgun in Mother's Impala. The two never had a problem with being on time because Mother carried a travel alarm clock in her purse.

The two had a fierce case of antique-itis. They were antique shopping one day and got locked in the storeroom when the shop closed for lunch. The lunch hour was more than half over before they realized the situation. My sister and sister-in-law and I all own a covered soap dish they found during that adventure.

My sister and I both love "old stuff." Her case of antique-itis is much worse than mine; she's an antique dealer at the Rough 'n Ready Antique Mall in Georgetown, Texas. Her speciality is anything made of iron, but she has a good general knowledge of what's old and what isn't. I just know to look at the bottom to see if the item was made in China or Japan.

Earlier this week I spent an afternoon in a local antique emporium. I wasn't looking for anything in particular. Once in a while I just have to go see what's out there. I found this lovely pottery pitcher with a hand-painted picture of a barn on it. The stamp on the bottom indicated it was made in Marshall, Texas.

I pulled out my cell phone and reached out to my sister, "Joy, there's a darlin' pitcher here at the antique emporium. It was made by such and such company out of Marshall, Texas."

"Ummm" she responded. "Put the pitcher down, Jackie and back away slowly."

"But Joy, it has a darlin' barn painted on the side." I don't like to give up too easily.

"No, Jackie. Put it down." she insisted.

"Okay, Joy, then how about a larger one by the same company. Oh, never mind. It's been set on a burner and is all black on the bottom."

"Yeah, Jackie, they're not worth the price. Just put the pitcher down and back away slowly."

The next morning I had occasion to phone Joy again. Her first question was "Okay, now be honest. Just what did you buy at the mall?"

I'm relieved to report she approved my purchases. I would enumerate them, but they're going to be Christmas gifts. Now all I have to do is remember the purchase and where I stored them.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Loves. Losses and What I Wore

A woman named Eileen Beckerman is in the advertising business and lives in Bernardsville, NJ. Bernardsville is nestled up to Basking Ridge where we lived for almost 20 years. I first heard about her book in the local paper.

She said she had trouble sleeping one night and began to think of all the high points in her life and what she'd worn for each of those occasions and how she would like to share those times with her children. Inspired, she got up and started drawing stick figures dressed in the treasured garments. The book is "Loves, Losses and What I Wore." It's now a play Off Broadway.

The book is short and takes about 15 minutes to read.

It makes a wonderful topic for a women's group. On two separate occasions, I've invited women to gather at my house for a "Loves, Losses and What I Wore" party. Each invitee was required to bring an item that she'd worn for a momentous occasion in her life or a picture of herself wearing it.

One woman brought a small velvet evening bag. When it came her time to present, she opened it and began to pull out small pieces of jewelry. "This was my grandfather's cufflink, this was my mother's pin, and this was my grandmother's earring." she said and went on to explain, "I carry this bag for every special family occasion with all these momentoes from departed loved ones inside. It's my way of including them and their memory in the present."

Our neighborhood book discussion made the local paper when we discussed the book. There were two wedding dresses on display and a merry widow. Back when we all had narrow waists, we wore a merry widow to make us look smaller. None of us would now be caught dead in one of those garments of torture no matter how thick we may be about the middle.

As always,
Jackie Lee Ellis