Leftovers Part I: Coffee and Pumpkin Pie

FRIDAY MORNING’S SKY has begun to lighten. A strong wind is bending the tall pines, escorting colder temperatures. The panhandle of Florida can go from t-shirt, shorts and sandal weather (yesterday) to where’s my sweater bring in the plants temps (tonight). A freezing reading here often feels ten degrees colder because of the high humidity. I see my own ghostly reflection in the darkened window. It smiles back. We toast each other with a mug of fresh ground French Roast coffee, strong enough to balance the nutmeggy sweetness of my pumpkin pie breakfast.

Another Thanksgiving has passed, the miraculous annual refurbishing of my soul has occurred, and I am ready to move forward. But first, a retrospective. If you are a lover of straight lines and tidy endings, be forewarned. This will meander, ramble and may not arrive at a definable point. It’s an after-Thanksgiving walk.

As a child growing up in a Southern Baptist home, my mother and others ridiculed “the Catholics” for their symbols and rituals — among other reasons, all of which made them interesting and exotic to me. Seventeen years ago I was confirmed as an Episcopalian — “Whiskypalian” in common parlance among “the Baptists” since they have no specific prohibition against strong drink and drink real wine at communion; in the protestant spectrum closer to Catholics than Baptists. The first time I attended Christ Church in Pensacola, Florida it felt like my first religious experience, despite a lifetime of being herded to church. It’s a place where I can tell the Rector of my doubts, and he might tell me of his. The symbols, rituals and sheer beauty are what I prize most, and kneeling to attempt prayer breaks up my veneer just enough to get through to me and kick up the volume of that still, small voice.

Tuesday night I looked through old cookbooks and food magazines from Novembers-past, sticky notes fluttering from the tops of pages, my comments scribbled on them. Wednesday morning early, armed with the shopping list, I kissed Buck, scratched Maggie’s ears, and left the woods for the neighborhood Albertson’s grocery store. “We’ve missed you!” “Glad you’re back!” These greetings from the folks who work at the grocery store take me by surprise.

On the way home, I stop by Floral Tree Gardens nursery. A huge tractor-trailer has just arrived with fresh spruce trees from North Carolina. The staff gathers around like excited children. We share smiles and I leave with a flat of bright yellow pansies and a huge Christmas cactus loaded with tiny buds.

Buck and Maggie have gone to buy corn to feed the deer. Man and dog ride off in the pick-up truck, Maggie sniffing the air from the passenger side window.

All afternoon and into the night, we continue working on our little cottage in the woods, Buck rescuing the garage from sheet rock dust, and me baking pies, cornbread for the dressing, shelling shrimp, and polishing old silver. The silver belonged to Buck’s late mother, my much-loved Lois. She and her sister, Ann, lived together in their last years, two elegant, tough old ladies who had both survived breast cancer, widowhood — Lois, twice — strokes, heart block, kidney disease and heartbreak. My first Thanksgiving with Buck, me newly divorced, him with the ink not quite dry, was at Lois’s home on Bayou Grande. She and Ann polished the old silver to a mirror finish, made fresh ambrosia with Indian River oranges and pink grapefruit, seafood gumbo, and roast turkey with many and varied accompaniments. Dessert was tiny scoops of vanilla ice cream served in stemmed crystal coupes with a splash of Amaretto liqueur.

I was making off with their darling Buck, the only child, and they intended to take my measure. Those old gals scared me to death.

Years later, when I sat beside a gravely ill Lois, holding her hand and stroking the thin, porcelain skin, bruised by the awful sticks necessary to check arterial blood gasses, she gripped my own hand strongly and focused those intense brown eyes on mine. “You and Buck aren’t going to fall out of love, are you?” My left hand went to touch the side of her face gently. “No, Lois, oh no. You don’t ever have to worry about that.”

Lois and her sister, Marguerite at our home in Cottage Hill, 1994.
Lois and her sister, Marguerite at our home in Cottage Hill, 1994.

California Meditation

Thinking of California, that beautiful state, and how vulnerable portions of it are tonight, with so many people frightened, mourning, in shock, running, I think of the many happy moments I have spent there hiking in the Big Sur and Sequoia, eating nectarine crisp in that fine Monterey restaurant. It’s a big state, and not all of it is in trouble, but are not we all afloat on the raft together, like the fellow in Yann Martell’s Life of Pi,  on a small raft on the ocean with a Bengal tiger?

Facing the death of a much loved, but ungiving person, I dashed off these notes some years ago, and thinking of our common frailties and common strengths, am reminded of them tonight. . .

The unknown. The unknowable. What does it mean to be a person? What is life? Who was this woman? Did I really know her? Even in her initial ungiving, she was a teacher. She was my guidepost and a lantern of warning. What are the lessons?

• Love, love, love. Love with all of your being. Don’t stint.
• Look at the world in wonder. Find the beauty. Immerse yourself in it. It will keep you from getting lost in the world of mundane daily tasks.
• Don’t be afraid or unwilling to give yourself to the people you love and to the works you’re inspired by.
• Be passionate about life.
• Don’t diminish the spirits of the people you love by being critical. Accept them. Love them. And let you know you love them. Tell them and show them. Have a generous spirit.
• A habit of criticism is as destructive as continuous water on a rock. It etches a family like acid and brings no good – only pain.
• See God. If believing is difficult, try to have faith. Even the search will give your spirit exercise and keep it from becoming rigid and incapable of growth. Doubting, yet continuing the quest, is still an affirmation of life. I have become unutterably convinced that it is a better way to live.
• The possibility of an afterlife is not the issue for me. It’s heaven on earth I’m interested in achieving.

A special little girl I know would pray sincerely for our California friends and say, “God bless Everyone under the rainbow.”

Goodnight. Stay safe. Be strong.

Way of the Waffle (and my puny sins)

Years ago, I loved to go to a Waffle Shop, drink gallons of hot coffee and eat waffles and bacon, usually about two in the morning. This was in my stay up all night dancing and drinking time of life. Must have been, since the smoky diner didn’t bother me back then. In my early twenties, I could stay up all night, drink , dance, and carouse; in my late twenties I could stay up all night and dance or stay up part of the night and drink.

1-Banana Waffles 003

At thirty on the dot, I moved, started a business, got divorced, got married again. (I find it’s best to do it in that order.) Well, we actually eloped two years later, but my love at first sight conversion experienced happened at thirty. For the next fifteen years, I was too busy to think about dancing, drank medicinally (that is, two measured scotch and waters every night, without fail), and slept as a discipline so I could be ready for the next day’s work. The saying around our house was, “Oh, good, the weekend. Only two more working days ’til Monday.”

These days, except for writing and a little stock market trading, I’m pretty much a lady of leisure. And, wonder of wonders, I find that, once again, I can stay up all night and dance all night. Two out of three isn’t bad. As for drinking, less really is more.

After years as a hot-house flower, I learned to hike, treadmill, stretch, and work with free weights (very important as a white, slight woman with surgical menopause and osteoporosis in the family). And I learned to redefine what’s good to eat.

Which brings me back to waffles. I still love them, but with a twist that can make them a daily breakfast treat. Here’s the Way of the Waffle:

Make your own recipe for whole grain waffles, or buy a whole grain mix you trust. Fix them, cool on a rack, then zip them up into a freezer bag so they’ll be ready any morning.

Fresh fruit is fabulous. We all know that. But keep frozen fruit on hand for convenience and to cheat the seasons. Our favorites are peach slices, blueberries, strawberry, blackberries, raspberries and dark cherries.

To make a sensational, healthful breakfast, warm up a frozen waffle either in a toaster or the oven — don’t use the microwave; it will just get soggy and gross. Put whatever fruit or fruit mix you want in the microwave and nuke it for 3-4 minutes. Add a little sweetener of your choice and spoon the warm fruit on the hot waffle. Frozen peaches are a slightly different animal from the berries. They need to be nuked an extra minute or two, and I like to sprinkle some ginger and cardamom on them.

The waffles are kind of big, but they separate into four sections, so on most mornings we have a quarter, and it’s plenty. I think I like it the most because my mouth thinks it’s eating something wicked like blueberry or peach pie. Guess I have always liked to sin a little without having to pay a price!

Yeah, I know. My sins are pretty puny, these days. Laughable, really.

The Rebel Sigh

As a child of seven or eight, I began to pester my Daddy for a piano. Like most children, cost and inconvenience to my parents were inconsequential elements in the cosmology of my momentary desires.

Naturally, he had to find a way.

It came in the form of a much-traveled upright. At $75, a good solution for a hard-working father to satisfy his little girl. “When you learn to play Sweet Hour of Prayer,” he told me, his gentle, hammer-scarred hand on my shoulder, “we’ll get you a real piano.”

True to his word in all things, W. T. bought me the promised spinet. I had played the old upright until the tops of many of the white keys came off, leaving my fingers sticky with dried glue. It must have sounded awful, but he would beam with pride as I banged out that old tent revival favorite.

W. T. died when I was twelve, but not before bequeathing to me his love of sacred music — a lifelong relationship, even when a relationship with God has often eluded me. In times of distress, grief, and yes — great joy, too — it is to the old hymnals that I turn, their particular musty scent and soft pages oh, so comforting. Better for me than the Psalms, speaking to my heart through the music.

I hope to live to be at least one hundred, but even at 52 the summers no longer seem endless, and my own personal spiritual journey has become more important to me than going to Spain or Portugal. Raised a Southern Baptist, and confirmed by choice as a doubting Episcopalian, I go down to the little Methodist church in the valley sometimes when they ask me to fill in for their vacationing pianist. I’ll go early and play an extended medley for a prelude, the elderly congregation slipping respectfully into their regular pews. I might start with “For the Beauty of the Earth”, then sandwich in a Chopin nocturne, followed by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Sound of Music”, and finish up, naturally, with “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” When the service has ended, at least a half dozen come to hug me and say “thank you, we love you”, no matter what I play.

That interior journey of the heart is very present with me tonight, as my stubborn spirit paces the floor of my mind. And so let us turn to Hymn number 138, “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart”, verse 4 only. Please stand as we sing.

“Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the
* patience of unanswered prayer.”

Words by George Croly (1780-1860), based on Galatians 5:25

Will the last one to leave please turn out the light?