Monday, September 10, 2012

Hummingbird Sunday

Yesterday started with a visit to the hospital to check on our new born grandchild and his novice parents. I was there in time to hear the pediatrician’s report. He declared the baby totally fit and having the calmest demeanor he had encountered in quite some time. We all agreed he might be resting up for the terrible twos.

I had my first one to one conversation with this young man while his paents were occupied with practical matters. He was twelve hours old and much more alert than when we were first introduced the night before. I bent low over the bassinet and babbled to him about the great childhood ahead of him. He looked puzzled and tried to focus on my face as he worked his mouth as though he was trying to learn to smack.

I left the hospital in my “woman with a mission” mode. I know what it’s like to take a new baby home from the hospital. The mother feels as though a truck has just run over her, leaving tire marks on her heart. Her hormone level is through the roof while the new father is in shock. They are on their own to raise this half-baked little person. It’s too bad babies don’t come with directions printed across their backs.

Such an emotional time requires vast amounts of comfort food. An hour later, I was headed home from the grocery; the car crowded full of food. The rest of the afternoon was spent unpacking bags, cleaning the refrigerator, and baking and cooking.

The weather in Memphis was heavenly. I kept the back door open to enjoy the fresh air. The sound of Sunday traffic from the main road a couple of blocks away sounded as soothing as rain on the roof or a babbling brook.

I browned chunks of beef and set them to stew in the crock pot with beef broth and half a bottle of red wine before tucking a chicken in the oven to roast. In the back of the fridge, I found a container of chicken fat left over from the last hen I baked. I put that in a pan and added chunks of yellow squash and celery and slices of mushrooms. Two heads of cauliflower were separated and mixed with Italian seasoning, bread crumbs and olive oil and then roasted. Every grandmother needs at least two ovens for just such occasions.

Our kitchen windows look out over the side yard where three hummingbird feeders are hanging. These birds will soon be migrating and are currently stuffing themselves in preparation for the long flight. I was entertained as I cooked by a steady swarm of hummingbirds swooping around our yard and feeding and resting briefly in the tall holly.

I will never forget this day of clear sunshine and joyous flight and promise for the future.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Step Aside, Garfield!

A sleek set of bathroom scales discretely occupies one quiet corner of our front bedroom.  It's a sheer piece of heavy plastic with bright aluminium strips on each side.  A small computer must be housed under one or both strips.  Registration is required before you can weigh.  You have to confide your gender, age and height with this computer by pressing buttons on each side before stepping up on the scales.  It then calculates your weight, percentage of water, and percentage of body fat. 

At least two people are supposed to be able to register with this new fangled doo hikey.  I share the scales with our son who is 36 years younger and five inches taller.  He registered himself as the first user.  I've struggled unsuccessfully to sign on as the second participant and finally decided to brazenly masquerade as User Number One.

I press the start button to begin the process.  The scales then announce my son's age and height before registering zeros.  This is my cue to plant a foot on each of the indicated marks.  There's always a short dramatic pause before it states my weight.  This is immediately followed by an almost audible gasp from the powers that be within as though it's saying "Who the expletive deleted are you?"  Then it almost screams "Error!" and rolls back to zero.

Those who live in our house don't get out much and learned long ago to find the humor in the little dramas of daily life like harassing the bathroom scales. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

First You Hafta

It's August in Memphis, Tennessee.  This is my least favorite month of the year; can't stand the heat and humidity.  Most people would define a "bleak" scene as one of a cold, dark winter day, but mine would be a late summer day in the south with the sun burning down with such intensity that the asphalt of the streets shimmers in the heat as though it's about to melt.

Experience has taught me that cold is easier to bear than heat.  You can always add another layer of clothing to get warm, but there's only so much modesty will allow you to remove.

This August has been a particular trial.  We're in the middle of downsizing and have discovered the frustration of dealing with  "first you hafta."  One bay of the garage is stacked with boxes demanding to be unpacked.  Several of the larger ones are marked "lamp shades".  The first impulse would be to unpack these since they take up so much space, and the contents should be easy to put away.  Unfortunately, a number of our lamps are geriatric and did not fare well in the move.  They had to be taken to the lamp shop for repairs before they could be put in place.  It would only add to the clutter inside the house to unpack the lamp shades and then leave them setting about until their lamps have been returned to working order.

The books presented a similiar quandry.  We gritted out teeth and pared down our collection to only the most essential.  It should be easy to dispose of these, but the used book store that will probably buy some of our first editions and my collection of McGreevy's Quarterly publications also stocks text books for all the local parochial schools.  They're too busy now selling text books to consider buying collectible books.  We're going to have to live with a pile of boxes packed with books in a corner of the living room for at least another week.  Every room in the house sports at least two or three piles of "stuff" waiting for the proper time to be processed.

Our ultimate example of First You Hafta is the storage bin we rented for temporary storage of several rooms of furniture.  This is primarily furniture we fell heir to from my husband's mother.  It no longer fits our needs.  The time has come to pass it on to the next generation, but first they hafta move.  One has just sold her house and is moving shortly, but the other child hasta have a baby first.  This could take a while.

There are a couple of boxes of china waiting to be unpacked.  Our first dining room set was too big for the current house and was given away before we moved.  I spent all day Saturday in the antique malls (aka used furniture stores) trying to decide what would fit our dining room and life style.  I finally settled on a dark oak English set that's simple and durable for our growing grandchildren.

I contacted a mover to schedule transporting my furniture.  It seems he loaded his truck this morning with furniture to be taken to an annual chairty sale only to find the shop isn't open on Mondays.  He has a doctor's appointment on Tuesday and an out of town funeral to attend on Wednesday.  It will be Thursday before he will be able to unload his truck, and Friday before he can get to my furniture.   My "First you Hafta" was trumped by his.

As always,
Jackie Lee




Thursday, August 16, 2012

Princess or Witch?

Imagine yourself as a gorgeous young woman with generous curves, a beautiful face, and hair to die for.  It's the middle ages. Deep down inside you're not terribly intelligent or sensitive or thoughtful or caring, but it's the middle ages and not a heck of a lot is expected of women.

It isn't considered a good idea to educate girls.  You have never had a serious thought in your entire life. You are a political pawn for your family. Deep down inside you are shallow. Nothing beyond dancing and embroidery and reproduction is expected of you, and you lack the intellect and/or drive to cultivate more.

Your father or your brother or your uncle, whoever is the head of your family, arranges a marriage for you with  a prominent man,  a widower with two or three young daughters.  It is an astute political alliance for the two families.

So you marry the man and have a child or two.  There is no pretense in this relationship.  Your husband often calls you by the first wife's name.  You always feel like an inadequate substitute.  Your children inherit the recessive genes of the least attractive ancestors on both sides of the family while your step daughters blossom into beautiful young women with gracious manners and beautfiul bodies.  They marry well.

Your body and family betray you at about the same time.  Your husband dies of something avoidable or stupid like a battle wound or an infected blister.  Your children have social and political aspirations of their own.  They move on in their lives with no time for a destitute parent.   The male relation who arranged your marriage is deceased or out of favor with the current governing body.  The family has fallen on hard times.  Money is scarce with none to be wasted on an older woman with no political clout.

Osteoperosis and arthritis combine to bend your body while age spots and an unfortunate wart or two mar your once flawless complextion.  Gray streaks appear in your hair.  Its texture changes and becomes a wiry, unmanageable halo that stands out from your head in every direction.  Once your greatest asset, even your appearance has abandoned you.

Someone in the family hierarchy has enough residual affection for you or sense of family responsibility to provide a small cottage in a remote area.  There you are expected to live out the rest of your life quietly without inconveniencing the rest of the family.

You are alone in the middle of no where with no resources and no longer useful to anyone.  You've never felt particularly loved or special to anyone.  Now even your own body has betrayed you.

Time slips by. The cottage gradually falls into disrepair.  Your once adequate clothing grows tattered.  You have no skills to either feed yourself or maintain the property, but you are still mindful of your social position and too proud to interact with the nearby villagers.  They in turn are resentful of you.

Once in a while the more foolhardy local children hike out to spy or gawk.  Some of the older are brave enough to shout catcalls or throw stones.  You're hungry and lonely and angry and in pain and have no patience for childish taunts.

Your miniature tormentors are fat and well dressed.  The final straw comes when two of these malicious tourists grow overly confident and slink hand in hand up to the house.  You instantly succumb to temptation.  With hair flying in every direction you chase the children away screaming threats to cook them in a pot and suck on their bones.

The transition is complete.  You're now a witch. 


Monday, August 13, 2012

Musical Chairs

After forty plus years together, my husband and I have come to recognize a mutual objective.  There may be a trail of vanilla wafer crumbs from the pantry to a certain easy chair holding down the center of our sitting room, but our mututal peace of mind requires a certain level of orderliness in our surroundings.  A path must be cleared to the door before retiring every night in case of fire.

Our lives are currently on tilt. We're in the process of combining furniture and household equipment from two houses into one.   Boxes and total disorder dominate our household.   It's a challenge. 

The situation is further complicated by changes within the extended family.  Our eldest child is scheduled to have a baby in September.  At the end of the month, our second daughter will be moving to a larger house.  The goal is to "keep your head when all about you are losing their's and blaming it on you."

Our newest best friend is the local moving company, Two Men and a Truck.  They are joining me later this week for a rousing session of musical furniture.  Half the day will be spent swapping furniture and room sized area rugs between our house and our storage unit and our son's apartment. 

There's just so much to be sorted through and pared down.  The new house has less wall space than the old.  Just what in the world do I do with all the framed and dearly cherished snapshots of family and friends? 

It was easy to start this project with the goal to discard everything that hasn't been used in the last year.  Then I found the baby dress my father bought me in Japan at the end of World War II.  What do I do with this fragile hand embroidered garment? The family Bible that's fallen apart from dry rot is another emotional challenge.

I have my great grandmother's sewing basket and her set of mixing bowls as well as the family butter mold, a lop sided square of badly weathered splintered wood.  Great Granny died before I married.  My children respect her memory but have no great sentimental attachement to her belongings.

There's a fine line between aging gracefully and getting mired in the past, and I'm stradling it.    

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake

My husband and I are drowning in our possessions.  We can't live our lives for taking care of "stuff".  I've spent the last two weeks going thru drawers and cabinets and closets to weed out the few things we want to keep from all the things that have become extraneous. 

During the process, I found a small tin cake box in the far corner of a closet shelf.  It had a strange rattle when I moved it and an even more unique odor when I opened it.  Inside was an assortment of Strawberry Shortcake dolls our daughters collected in the 1980's.

For those of you who either have forgotten or missed out on this childish fad, the Strawberry Shortcake dolls were a series of chunky plastic figures about three inches tall.  There was a wide variety.  Each was named and dressed in the color of a fruit.  All were also heavily infused with the odor of their particular fruit.

Two or three spent one summer riding around under the seat of my car.  It added to the challenge of summer driving in the mid-south.  The interior of the vehicle would be so hot the buckle of the seat belt could burn a small child.  And the odor of the Strawberry Shortcake would make everyone's eyes water.

The house where we reared our family had a modest in the ground swimming pool.  The linning gave out and had to be replaced a couple of summers after these dolls joined our household.  We decided to deepen the pool while we had the chance to prevent any diving accidents.  The extra dirt was neatly stacked like a short terrace behind the wooden fence that surrounded three side of the pool.

The girls enjoyed digging in the soft dirt that summer, and one afternoon decided to bury the Strawberry Shortcake dolls there.  My sinuses and I thought it was a great idea.

The dolls were forgotten for several years until our family was transferred to New Jersey.  While I prepared to pack, the girls started digging for their buried dolls.  It was our family's version of  the No Child Left Behind Program.  I encouraged the project.  It gave the children something to do; kept their minds and bodies occuped.

A dozen or so of these odoferious toys surfaced within a couple of weeks.  Two or three years of heat and rain and frost had left them caked with grime.   They spent the rest of the summer in one section of the silverware holder of the dishwasher where they rode through the sani temp wash and dry at least once every day.  At the end of the summer, they were packed in the round tin cake tin for the move.

That was 1991.  The dolls had remained closed in the tin until a few days ago.   They look pretty good considering their history.  Some of the original fragrance still clings to the plastic.  I think I'll divide them three ways and give them to our daughters for Christmas.  One has two little boys.  Her dolls will probably endure further adventures from a second generation.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I have always avoided the sun and was shocked to learn earlier this week that the bump on the back of my upper arm was a small skin cancer.  The physical discomfort of having it removed wasn't nearly as painful as the blow to my ego.  Sun bathing has always been one of my least favorite activities.  It makes me feel nauseous and faint.  Why isn't being pale enough to glow in the dark just as sexy as being tan?

I also had to have two fillings replaced this week.  Just when I finally learned his name, our dentist retired leaving us in the hands of a neophyte who appears to be twelve or so.  The new kid lacks his predecessor's sense of humor and gift for gab, but at least he has a deft touch with the needle.  Like many others in my age group, my earliest experiences at the dentist have given me a life-long dread of the routine application of Novocaine. 

In the summer between the second and third grade, I fell on the back porch steps and broke the corner off my first permanent tooth.  It became infected despite frequent visits to the pediatric dentist and had to be pulled.  The extraction was excruciating and made me the only child in third grade with a partial plate.

The dentist presented the situation in the best possible light when it became apparent the tooth would have to be pulled.  He described in great detail how much fun I could have flopping the plate out on my tongue and waving it about.

"Don't even think about it." Mother said as we left the dentist's office.  "You keep that plate in your mouth at all times."

I knew that tone of voice.  It was that of the Ultimate Standard Bearer.  The list of Thou Shalt Nots was much longer and more involved in my childhood than today.  Back then a young lady did not walk around in public with something to eat or drink in her hand.  If you had to smoke, it could only be done while seated.  Dancing was great fun, but ladies never wiggled their shoulders.

Proper attire included constrictive underclothing that kept all the rounded features of the feminine physique from jiggling.  Those who wore hats to church understood that it had to be accompanied by gloves, preferably white, and heels and stockings.

Mother's greatest scorn was reserved for gum chewers.  She had a scathing poem about them.  I've forgotten most of it but know it ended with a comparison of a gum chewing girl and a cud chewing cow.  It was the thoughtful expression on the face of the cow.

It's amazing how much can change in just one generation.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Peaks and Valleys of Wednesday

My Wednesday morning started early with a brief prayer service at an Episcopal Church downtown followed by breakfast with the homeless and nearby neighbors who live on the edge of hunger.  I was asked to pass the collection plate.  The young man who sleeps on a filthy towel on the front porch of the church gave a penny.

Our church recently bought a small strip of land at the end of its parking lot and has started a neighborhood garden there.  Some of the breakfast crew walked several blocks north of the church picking up trash and visiting with neighbors while the rest of us pulled out the water hose and gardening tools.   One man ran a tiller along side the chain link fence that stands between the parking lot and vacant lot.  Okra and sunflower seedlings stood nearby ready to be planted in the freshly turned earth.

It was a beautiful bright sunny day just warm enough to make you happy to be outside.  The man pushing the tiller took a break and pulled out his bagpipes to make a happy noise.  This brought the residents from across the street out to investigate.  The consultant from the neighborhood gardening effort was there with his dog, Willow.  Willow is an Australian herder with white eyes and a grey coat with black spots.  He also has sensitive ears and tried to hide from the melodic bagpipe.

An older man who makes the oatmeal every week for our breakfast came out to view the progress on the new project.  He lives in the general neighborhood in a house built from a design he suspects was made by Frank Lloyd Wright.  He also has reason to believe the house was ordered from Sears.  We left together.  If I had suspected he was headed home, I would have been sorely tempted to follow him just to see the house from the outside.

I picked up a salad to go on my way to one of the local art museums.  A curvaceous Black woman with perfect makeup and two inch long artificial eyelashes stopped me at the gate.  I stated my business.  She spoke into the microphone attached to the shoulder of her uniform to confirm with her commander that the lecture I planned to attend was indeed on the schedule.  In an equally feminine voice, the commander gave instructions on where I should park.   It was a perfect day to sit in the car in the shade with the windows down.  Memphis is a fragrant city this time of year with the honeysuckle and magnolias in bloom.

It is good to sit with a friend among like minded people and listen to a beautiful young pregnant woman talk about an art exhibit she's spent two years planning.  I have one basic standard for paintings.  I imagine myself in the throes of an intestinal virus with the picture hanging directly opposite my bed and ask would this picture make me feel better or worse. 

I shoe shopped after the lecture and flirted with the idea of buying an orange and hot pink pair of wedgies but talked myself out of them; no arch support.  I came away with yet another pair of sensible black sandals.

The people who attend a bridge class with me on Saturdays also meet at a local coffee shop on Wednesday afternoons to discuss the latest lesson.  This one left me excited about the game and eager to play.

On the drive between my house and the bridge club, I must have collected a large black cloud of bad karma becaue my bridge game last night was a comedy of errors.  It was one of those times when my partner and I could not win for losing.  It was a four round event.  We lost the last one by 59 points.  That has to be a record, but it was the end of a good and memorable day nonetheless.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Treasure Amongst the Hollies

Earlier this week I helped with the landscaping at our local bridge club. The club building is a utilitarian cement block structure landscaped with mature holly bushes. I spent a couple of hours crawling around the bushes pulling weeds and picking up debris. Cigarette butts are not biodegradable.

Behind one of the bushes and up against the wall, I spied a black piece of diaphanous material partially covered with dirt and pea gravel. I gently tugged it out into the open, shook it, and discovered the gauzy fabric was a beaded halter top.

I hung it on the rail of the front porch and crawled back under the bushes to consider the potential of this semi-buried treasure as I finished weeding. The man who was working with me happened to walk by just as I finished.

"Look what I found." I said and held up the halter. He started laughing and slapping his knee. "Thank God." he said. "It's hot today, and when I saw that hanging on the rail, I was afraid you had brought it and planned to change into it after while."

I'm positive he used the word "afraid". My ego was bruised.

Back home, I soaked the delicate garment briefly in cold water in the mop bucket, and then gently rinsed it. It only lost three or four beads in the process. I had it hanging on the drying rack before my husband came home. I didn't show him my prize. I was still mulling over what I wanted to do with it and nursing my wounded pride.

The halter was dry the next morning. I brought it in the house with the morning newspapers. "Look what I found back of the hollies at the bridge club." I said to my long suffering spouse. He looked up over the top of the Wall Street Journal. Fully clothed in gown and denim robe, I held the garment up to my chest to give him the full effect. He paused a moment and then asked, "What is that? A bib?"

His response was worse than the gardeners. I'll admit the garment was made for someone of less generous proportions than mine, but nobody ever beaded a bib.

I consulted several of the Powers That Be at the bridge club. The suggestion was made to put the halter in the club's lost and found along with all the misplaced scorecards, gloves, pencils and sunglasses. It will be interesting to see how long it will take for someone to find it and to hear the reaction.

As always,

City Mouse Marries Country Mouse

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I grew up on a cattle ranch in central Texas and married a man from the big city of Memphis, TN.

My beloved is a total urbanite. To his credit, he knows chocolate milk does not come from brown cows but has no knowledge whatsoever about plants or how anything grows.

I love gardening. In our house, we call it "digging in the dirt." My husband sees no need to maintain the lawn. It's just grass and grows of its own volition as far as he is concerned.

The crowning glory of our first house was a magnificent two story tall magnolia in the front yard. Some of my fondest memories of the 1970's were spent working around it. With the baby in the playpen in its shade and her toddler sister playing nearby, I trimmed hedges. The process was simple: trim for two minutes, put down the clippers and chase the toddler, trim for three minutes and tend to the baby. It wasn't a bad way to spend an afternoon.

I also planted spring bulbs and annuals in the front beds. Petunias were my best "crop". My spouse begrudged any funds spent on gardening. "We have no money for mulch." he declared.

The beds needed mulching badly. An elderly man with a pickup truck load of mulch went door to door in our neighborhood selling really rich, black mulch. I weakened and bought the least amount I could to cover the two bald beds in front of the house. The man reassured me the mulch did not come from the stockyards. I knew he was lying, and he knew I knew he was lying.

Our family went out for sandwiches that evening. It was spring. We left the windows over the newly covered beds open a couple of inches. It drizzled just enough while we were away for the stockyard aroma to permeate the entire house.

My husband tends to be a bit dramatic. His reaction to this earned him the "Best Dramatic Performance of the Day" award. Only he would ask, "What is that smell?"

I thought it was pretty obvious and gave the most outrageous, sarcastic reply I could think of on the spur of the moment. "Once a year for about eight hours when the magnolias are first in bloom, they can occasionally give out noxious fumes."

He believed me! When he pulled out the directory to call the tree surgeon to have the tree removed, I had to confess. It's one thing for me to know how gullible he is and quite another for him to flaunt it outside the family.

That incident has become a benchmark in our relationship. I'll explain something and get the skeptical response, "Are you sure that's not another magnolia story?"

As always,
Jackie Lee

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Interview

In high school I belonged to the Future Business Leaders of America. I participated in the group because the typing teacher who sponsored it was one of my favorite teachers.

The meetings were held once a month before school. I depended on the bus for transportation back and forth to school. One spring morning the bus was somewhat delayed, and I slipped in the meeting a little late to learn that our group was responsible for the next month's general assembly for the entire student body.

There was no discussion. The teacher announced we were going to demonstrate the correct and incorrect way to interview for a job. She went on to declare I was to open the program as the bad example.

The assignment was a no brainer. It was an easy assignment. My granny made all my clothes back then. She had an unfortunate sense of color and was addicted to the remnant table at the fabric store. This is how I wound up with a sheath dress made of drapery fabric. Drapery fabric isn't made to be washed regularly. It shrank every time it got wet.

So I wore the sheath with big flowers for the assembly. My brown hair was stuffed under a puffy white wig. I put on every piece of jewelery I owned; used a trowel to put on my makeup; and stuffed an entire package of chewing gum in my mouth. I also wore my first pair of high heels.

I made my entry from the audience by wobbling up a short series of steps to the stage with my back to the audience. Some boy in the audience made a remark about my rear that prompted my brother to stand up and announce "That's my sister."

I smacked gum through the interview and asked about the pay and vacation without inquiring about the duties required for the position. I may even have sat on the corner of the interviewer's desk.

I didn't stay to hear the correct way to interview. I was too anxious to wash my face and change my clothes. I passed the vice-principal in my rush to the girls' room. "You're hired." he said.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Teasing the Children

One of my favorite people at our local bride club is a widowed retired insurance executive. She has two sons who are to be commended for their attentiveness to their mother; however, they are also merciless in their teasing.

Last fall during a break in a bridge tournament, she told me about how good her sons are about keeping her car in pristine condition and power washing her deck. Once a year they roll up the rugs in her condo and clean the hardwood floors. That's commendable behavior, but they  also tease her about the minimal dust they find under the rugs.

I suggested she place some prophylactics AKA "rubbers" under the rug for her sons to find the next time they cleaned her rugs. We laughed about it the whole weekend.

A few days later I happened to be shopping at Wal Mart and walked through the drug department on my way from the groceries to house goods. I thought of our discussion and shopped the prophylactics aisle.

I had heard they were available in wild colors and flavors and was determined to purchase the most outlandish that was offered; at least I was until I saw the prices. Condoms are expensive.

I bought the cheapest available, put the box in a brown paper lunch bag and presented it to my friend.

I wanted her to put them under the rug immediately to give them time to accumulate dust and patina before they were discovered in the spring. She chose to wait. In the meantime, she shared our plans with her brother and sister because she expected her sons to contact them when they discovered her mischief. They needed to be in on the joke.

My friend dithered all winter long about where she should plant the offending objects and worried that one of her sons would find them in the meantime.

Once they were placed under the rug, she worried they would be discovered prematurely. She shared the joke with many of her friends and acquaintances. Her sons were properly shocked when the prophylactics were discovered. They retaliated by leaving one of them blown up like a balloon in her kitchen sink.

Friends phoned her at ten pm the night of the "offensive" to join them at a gathering to share her story. The next morning she remarked to me that she was surprised at how "greasy" the objects were. I had to remind her about the importance of lubrication.

It was the best two dollars I ever spent.

Get the Net

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I grew up in Bastrop County, Texas, but now live the suburban life of a retiree in Memphis, Tn. I love gardening and digging in the dirt. Our current residence is in a zero lot line subdivision, normal size houses are built on handkerchief size lots. We're a subdivision of empty nesters who don't want the responsibility of maintaining a full sized yard.

We bought this lot and had the house built in 2000. At the time, we were in New Jersey, and our youngest daughter was living with us. At a party she happened to mention that we were building a house in the Mid-South. Someone at the gathering said they knew about our subdivision and to warn us about the amount of landfill that had been hauled in before construction began.

My husband has been paranoid ever since. He expects to wake up any morning to find the end of the house has dropped off into the drainage ditch back of us. (One person's drainage ditch is another's creek. It's all in the eye of the beholder.)

My people never let me forget that I'm a product of pioneer stock. All we had was the sweat of our brow and our land. The land must be respected. So here I sit. The tiny apron around my  house is mostly sand and ad lib. It's taken me two or three years, but I think our erosion problem is under control. Now it's time to work on improving the quality of the soil.

We have no space for a compost pile, but an article in the local paper suggested an alternative. Since there are only two people in the household, it seemed a manageable idea. I save all the vegetative kitchen refuse in a plastic container in the refrigerator. When the it's fillled I grind it in the food processor and then bury it in the flower bed. It's supposed to attract earthworms and enrich the soil. We'll see.

It should be noted at this point that my husband has mellowed tremendously in 43 years. He tolerates the noise of the food processing of the refuse as well as its presence in the refrigerator. If I had tried this experiment 40 years ago, he would have asked, "Have you lost your expletive deleted mind? Someone should scoop you up in a net and haul you off." And that would have been the end of the experiment. We've come a long way.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hoop Malfunction

In my junior year of high school I rode to my first prom in a pale green Volkswagen. My date was the first person I ever dated and one of the true loves of my life.

I wore a white strapless dress. The full skirt was two layers of lace and a blue bow down one side. It was customary back then for young women to wear a second layer of clothing beneath their formal attire. The bra alone could come close to costing almost as much as the prom gown. Mine was long line with stays that extended down to the waist. I also wore a garter belt around my waist to hold up my sheer stockings. The full skirted dress required support from a hoop petticoat that had a layer of stays running horizontally around it. This was designed to hold out the full skirt.

Mother went to great pains to brief me on proper prom behavior and assured me the hoop was designed to collapse when I sat. She took me to a beauty shop to have my hair done and made me wash my neck at the last minute to keep the scent of my perfume from smothering my date.

We took snapshots when my date arrived, and Mother walked out to the front porch to wave goodbye as we left. My date opened the car door for me; I turned my back to the car and sat down in the seat. As I lifted my feet to swing my legs into the car, the hoop flew up exposing my stocking-covered legs to the world. I beat the skirt down out of my face to find my mother leaning against the door frame of the screened porch and laughing so hard that tears were streaming down her cheeks. My red-faced date was staring fixedly into the sky above the car.

Once I regained my modesty, he helped me stuff my skirts into the Volkswagen and we chugged off to the prom. Oh, to be that young and happy again.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cat Hair Is a Condiment

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm a native Texan who spread her roots from Texas to Tennessee to New Jersey. My husband and I are now retired. Our nest is empty. There is nothing more lonely.

I started filibustering a few months ago for the addition of several animals to our household. I would like to have two cats. I would adopt sisters and name them Purrkins and Suky Tawdry. We should also have a dog. Family tradition dictates it should be male and Black. I have yet to completely decide on his name, but the current favorite is Currby. All three names are shamelessly puny and would sound great when called out across the back yard.

Unfortunately, now is not a good time to bring anyone new into our household. Our Jersey house is on the market, and I must continue to migrate back and forth between Jersey and Tennessee until it sells. We must temporarily be satisfied with a surrogate pet.

His name is Earl. Earl is a stuffed animal currently caught up in an identity crisis. He's a toy moose about eight inches high and dressed in a plaid hunting cap with ear flaps and a green muffler. Manufactured by Gund, Earl is a native of New Jersey.

This is the source of his identification confusion. Although he's dressed like Paul Bunyon with antlers, Earl has mafia aspirations. He wants to be a "made man."

My collection of stuffed animals includes one or two more moose and several snowmen and women. The snow people hold court on the stairs to the guest room every winter. When I put them all out this Christmas, I made the mistake of seating Earl by Mr. and Mrs. Snowman. He put the move on Mrs. Snowman and made a couple of ill considered remarks to her that forced Mr. Snowman to call him out for a duel. As a last resort to prevent any serious bodily harm to the participants, I was forced to move Earl to a chair in our sitting room.

Earl spends his days there smirking and muttering and making rude noises. My husband and I enjoy his questionable companionship but look forward to the day when we can welcome a live animal into our home. It's time we had someone to walk. I need to be spending less time exercising my imagination and more time walking a dog.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

For Sale

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm from Bastrop County, Texas. Life can be funny like a sharp stick in the eye. I started out in the middle of no where and wound up living in the suburbs. We're retired now and in the process of moving from the north east to the mid south.

For the past 12 years, I've been commuting back and forth between Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and Memphis, TN. I do not believe in packing light and have learned to be creative about it. The bag that holds the golf clubs also contains shoes and my quilting fabric. It's a good thing knitting projects don't have odometers. A couple of my sweaters would have gone over 100,000 miles before they were ever completed. My suitcases are always inspected. Knitting needles look dangerous to the surveillance camera.

The sign has been up in the yard for over a year in Basking Ridge. We've had three contracts that all failed for perfectly logical reasons. The selling process started with me peeling away at the house removing the layers of pictures and books and personal items that make the difference between a house and a home.

This past week a stager came to help re-arrange and organize the rooms to make them more appealing to the general public. Almost all the books must be removed from the shelves for the book case to look nicer. The goal is to make it look inviting and "homey" but not like my home.

I cleaned out a closet in the basement yesterday and found all the letters my husband and I wrote each other during our courtship. They surface every 15 or 20 years. We re-read them and smile at the clueless children we once were and then stick them away to be forgotten for another chunk of time.

It will be a relief when the house finally does sell and all our belongings are in one place. In the meantime, I suppose I should remove the piece of wood shaped like the state of Texas and painted with a blue bonnet scene that's hanging on my back door.

As always,
Jackie Lee

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What did you say?

My name is Jackie Lee Ellis. I'm from Bastrop County Texas. Health care there in the late 1940's and early 1950's was spotty at best. Granddaddy blew smoke from his hand-rolled cigarette in my ears to relieve my toddler ear aches.

I probably have not had perfect hearing since early childhood. In high school, I had a reputation for being "stuck up" when in reality I couldn't hear thunder. I unconsciously learned to read lips and interpret body language. I had no idea this behavior was unusual. I thought everyone could read lips across the band hall.

About ten years ago, I broke down and bought a pair of hearing aids. I wore them a couple of days and then set them on the night stand and looked at them for two or three years. There's way too much sound in our world. I don't need to hear the legs of my jeans swish together or the click of silverware echoing in a restaurant.

My deafness proved to be a challenge when I was raising children. I learned to holler "Turn that music down!" when the wall began to vibrate and to interpret guilty looks.

I have new hearing aids now that I've learned to tolerate. A low sexy male voice whispers "Battery." in my ear when the battery is about to die. We've made adjustments in our home and lifestyle to accommodate my inability to hear. The leaves on my ficus benjamina rustle when the phone rings at our house.

As always,
Jackie Lee