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August 4, 2012 / hippiechickamblings

Blame Eve

Anglo-Catalan Psalter or The Great Canterbury ...

My grandmother (“Maw”) was a God-fearing woman all her life. Holding a world view in which human nature can be explained in terms of a Supreme Being can simplify things considerably. Or, can it? During many hours spent with Maw while we crocheted together, I learned that life, as she saw it, was simply a matter of staying on one side of the fence: the right side. But, first you had to find the fence. A perfect example was a conversation I remember which started with a news story about a man suspected of killing his wife.

Maw: It was all Eve’s fault, anyway. She makes me mad every time I think of her.

Me: Eve? I thought the news said that woman’s name was Shannon.

Maw: No, I’m talking about Eve…you know…Eve…way back there.

Me: Eve Wayback? Never heard of her.

Maw: Uh, Brother. Do you do that on purpose? I’m talking about EVE! From the Bible!

Me: What about her? What’s she got to do with that guy killing his wife?

Maw: Everything! Wouldn’t be no bad people doing bad things if she hadn’t done what she did! There she was, had a fine man, no worries, no dirty dishes, and what does she do? Goes and ruins it!

Me: So you think everything that’s bad in the world is Eve’s fault?

Maw: Sure it is! It’s right there in the Bible! She had everything a woman could want, but evidently that wasn’t enough for Miss Eve! She had to have a bite of that apple!

Me: Bible doesn’t say it was an apple, Maw. Just says it was fruit.

English: Adam and Eve Driven From Paradise, c....

English: Adam and Eve Driven From Paradise, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 8 7/8 x 12 7/16 in. (22.6 x 31.7 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maw: I don’t care if it was one of them fancy fruits nobody can afford! She had no business eating it when she was told not to!

Me: Well, God gave her free will. Maybe she looked at that fruit and decided it looked better than Adam. Besides, he wasn’t some innocent bystander, you know. He took a bite, too.

Maw: Because she talked him into it! Evil woman! It was all her fault!

Me: So, what do you think would’ve happened if Eve hadn’t messed up?

Maw: Why, I reckon they would’ve just run around nekkid, in Paradise, eating garden stuff without having to plow it first…living forever.

Me: Yeah, I suppose that would be the life. Unless they ran out of things to talk about.

Maw: Oh, I’m sure they’d find enough to talk about…and it would all be happy stuff…nothing sad. You ever wonder what she looked like?

Me: Eve? I would imagine she must’ve been more beautiful than we can imagine. Being made especially for Adam, by God, and all that.

Maw: I’m not too sure about that.

Me: You don’t believe that God made Eve?

Maw: Oh, I know He did. I’m talking about the “beautiful “part.

Me: Surely you’re not saying you think Eve was ugly.

Maw: Well, we don’t know, now do we? Weren’t nobody around to say what was purty and what wasn’t. How was Adam supposed to know what was purty? He hadn’t never seen a woman.

Me: Well, I don’t think…

Maw: (Interrupting): For all we know, she could’ve been uglier than a dog’s hind end. It ain’t like she had to be purty to keep him happy. After being around elephants and zebras and stuff, any woman was bound to look good to him.

Me: You don’t believe a word of that.

Maw: I’ll tell you something else. I don’t think Adam was all that smart.

Me: So you think Eve was ugly and Adam was stupid?

Maw: Not stupid. Just not all that bright. He couldn’t have been too sharp and let her talk him into eating that fancy fruit.

Me: Well, it didn’t turn out all bad. They still lived to be hundreds of years old, and probably had hundreds of children.

Maw: Yeah, and thanks to Eve, it hurt to have babies after that! Can you imagine giving birth back then, with no clean beds or hot water or anything? And no scissors!

Me: Scissors?

Maw: To cut the cord! How you reckon they cut the cord for all them babies without scissors or a knife?

Me: Probably used a rock.

Maw: You really think Eve had HUNDREDS of children? Ain’t no woman could do that!

Me: It’s possible. The environment was probably a lot different…no cancer or heart disease…so, they lived so much longer, they could’ve had children up into their hundreds.

Maw: Get away from here!

Me: Yeah, I think so. After all, God did tell them to be fruitful and multiply.

Maw: Lord have mercy! Ain’t no way I’d let some 400 year-old man crawl in bed with me.

Me: Well if you were 400 years old yourself, he’d probably look pretty good to you.

Maw: Not with a hundred young’uns to take care of, he wouldn’t! I’d be too tired. I’d go upside his head with one of them cord-cutter rocks!

August 2, 2012 / hippiechickamblings

Ruth’s Bed and Breakfast

A sunset and the silhouettes of palm trees. Th...

Imagine glistening beaches, turquoise-tinted waters, and a balmy breeze caressing the nape of your neck while carrying the lilting strains of Reggae.  How about white-water rafting on Colorado rapids, or hiking up majestic trails near the Grand Canyon? And let’s not forget the glamour of Vegas or the magic of Disney World. If the idea of any of these hot vacation spots leaves you giddy as a school girl, you wouldn’t be impressed with how I choose to spend my down-time.

English: White Water Rafting,Tara Adventure;

English: White Water Rafting,Tara Adventure; (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cringe at the thought of spending hundreds of dollars on gas or airline tickets, which, once gone, can never be put to use at Goodwill. Battling freeway traffic, worming my way through suffocating crowds, and standing in long lines induces enough jitters to make me gnaw my toenails. Being athletically challenged as I am, a walk from the back steps to the car can result in broken bones, so mountain hiking would be pushing it. I’m far too unlucky to ever set foot in Vegas, and as for the white beaches— well, the sight of me in a bathing suit frightens small children and animals, and I can live without that on my conscience.

Flash has never impressed me. I’m a low-key kind of gal. Watching flickering fireflies after dark or the dance of hummingbirds at the feeder is apt to hold my attention as easily as the latest blockbuster. You’ve heard people joke about watching the grass grow? I could probably dig it. So, typical vacation resorts don’t particularly turn me on. My preference is a little spot I like to call Ruth’s Bed and Breakfast. Okay, so it’s not really a legit inn. It’s my Aunt Ruth’s place.

English: St. Ruth's farmhouse Advertising bed ...

English: St. Ruth’s farmhouse Advertising bed and breakfast. On the R362 convenient for Athlone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She has no palm trees or pounding surf, but her pool is deliciously cold on a sultry summer’s eve. There’s no poolside bar, but Ruth’s ice tea hits the spot, and my daughter’s flips and dives are like watching a mermaid at play. You won’t find a string of comedy clubs in town, but sitting on the porch swing, listening to my aunt and uncle’s verbal sparring is just as hilarious. They have a unique relationship. Married over fifty years, she does her thing, and he does his. She says that if he dies before she does, she’s having him cremated and put in a can on her mantle so she can “cuss him out” every time she walks by. In the morning, there’s fresh coffee and easy conversation waiting on the porch. If it’s early enough, I might see a doe grazing on clover in the bottom field and catch the whisper of a cool breeze. When it’s a sunny day, a treasure hunt at a local auction or yard sale may be on the agenda, but if I’m more in the mood to be a lazy slob and kick back in a recliner with a book, that’s cool. A drive out in the country with the windows down. A lazy afternoon of writing, or browsing my grandmother’s journal left behind after she passed.  A relaxed dinner of garden vegetables and home grown pork chops with blackberry cobbler for dessert. Lots of laughs and endless conversation.

Not exactly a Wall Street trot in a Lear Jet or a jaunt to Martha’s Vineyard, but for the price of a tank of gas, I have a place where my daughter may spill a glass of milk or make too much noise, and no one scolds her. It’s a place where no one spazzes out if you leave a dirty plate in the sink. If I decide to slouch around for two days in a pair of scrubs, no one gapes at me and says, “You’re wearing THAT?” In truth, Ruth’s Bed and Breakfast is a place where judgment and expectations are checked at the door, and unconditional acceptance is the rule. It’s where people actually listen when you talk and respect what you feel, even if they don’t feel the same. That’s why I prefer it over bright lights and vacation madness. There, I find total freedom to be me, and my daughter can be a kid.  And I love it.

July 31, 2012 / hippiechickamblings

Momma Said

My mother is a lovely, strong, independent woman with an iron will and enough backbone to start her own museum of natural history. She’s also generous to a fault, and when it comes to giving advice, her generosity can be downright boundless. Mom has always been of the opinion that I can benefit more than anyone else from her advice, and I’m sure she’s convinced that had I heeded her instruction, I wouldn’t have become the big fat loser I am today. I know this is true, because the older I get, the more desperate she is to heap her wisdom upon my reluctant ears. I have learned to cope, however. There’re definite clues to listen for when the giving tree is about to dump another load. One of my favorites is, “If I were you, I would…”

According to Mom, the secret to a happy, safe, and successful life can be summed up in just a few simple guidelines:

“Pretty” is, as “Pretty” does. Translation: Behave beautifully, and you will be seen as beautiful, and people will like you. Nice philosophy, Mom…if you’ve got a corset and bustle in your undies drawer, and Charles Dickens lives next door. In the real world…you know, the one we live in NOW…the more you behave like a jackass, the more people adore you…as long as you’re pretty, of course. If this were not true, there would be no celebrity reality shows.

Always chew your food at least 20 times before swallowing. Otherwise, it could get hung in your “e-sock-afuss,” and you could choke to death. Plus, you won’t eat as much. Translation: Mom cannot pronounce the word “esophagus.” Also, Mom is weight conscious, and everybody knows a healthy weight can cure heart disease, cancer, hypertension, distemper, and rabies.

Never sleep naked. There might be a fire in the middle of the night, and you’d have to run into the street in clear view of the neighbors. Not sure where Mom was going with this one. All I know is that if my house catches on fire, the least of my worries will be whether or not the neighbor gets an eyeful of my “groceries.” I think this may be a recycling of that old “wear clean underwear when you leave the house…in case you get in an accident” rule. How dumb is that, anyway? Everybody knows that if you get in a car accident, a second one is going to take place anyway…IN your clean underwear.

It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as with a poor man. Mom was not advocating that I become a gold digger. This rule came while I was still in my twenties, and she noticed that I seemed to be a magnet for homeless, and/or unemployed dudes whose last jobs involved making license plates and Mr. Potato Heads.

Never shave above your knee. The hair will just get coarser, and you’ll never be able to stop. This must’ve been truly life-altering advice, since I heard it at least once a week, long after I’d been shaving my thighs on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, I heard it just this weekend. Mom was scandalized when she discovered I hadn’t taken her advice. “I tried to tell you what would happen,” she declared. “Right,” I said. “I can’t stop, now.” I suppose it’s a good way to go, as long as you’re not some hairy mutant freak who could pass for evolution’s “missing link.” Like me.

Never buy “new” if you can still use what you have. Translation: Wasting is a sin, and throwing away that polyester jumpsuit could send you to hell.  My mother believes that a sell-by date on food is part of a government conspiracy designed to get you to spend more money. She also has mascara from 1965. She washes aluminum foil, paper plates, baggies, and has enough plastic Cool Whip bowls to store food for a third world country. Of all my mother’s life rules, this one has impacted me the most, and to this day, I can’t walk by a Goodwill store without getting a buzz.

You can tell a lot by a person by the condition of their shoes. Since Mom has never gotten around to elaborating on this one, I’m still not clear on what life-shattering mysteries are to be found by looking at someone’s shoes. I can only assume that in Mom-town, if your shoes are shiny, new-looking, and well-cared-for, you’re likely to be nominated for mayor, whereas I would be living in a box. I’ve never fully grasped the obsession many women seem to have with shoes. My personal philosophy on shoes is simplicity itself: You need them, especially in winter. Buy a couple of pairs that fit well and wear them until they disintegrate. Then replace them.

Try as I may, I’ll never be the woman my mother is, but I’ve come to a certain comfortable acceptance of my inadequacies. Some of her advice is as much a part of me as the color of my eyes, while other bits and piece just never have fit who I am. I guess I’ll continue to behave like a lady, content with the fact that it will never get me my own reality show. I’ll gulp my food, because I never have time to do otherwise, keep my flannel pajamas, steer clear of men, both rich and poor, deal with my hairy thighs, catch a buzz every time I pass by a Goodwill store, and keep both pairs of shoes. And I’m okay with that.

July 22, 2012 / hippiechickamblings

Floozy in the Family Tree?

Apparently, my great grandmother was quite the scandal. Her name was Sarah, and from all accounts, she was a natural beauty, though the way she lived would’ve been considered anything but beautiful. She had six children by different men. SIX! Even more unbelievable, she didn’t marry any of the men who fathered her children! As a matter of fact, she didn’t marry until later in life, and divorced the man long before there was time to collect the china.

Had Sarah lived in our time, she would’ve been heralded as an independent woman who lived life according to her own rules, a modern woman unafraid to spread her wings and free herself of rigid guidelines proscribed by men. Unfortunately, Sarah wasn’t from our time. She was part of an era when morality was defined as one man and one woman married until death, and children only came after vows were sanctioned by God and the laws of man. Living outside that box was likely to get you tarred and feathered. So, what was the deal with Sarah? Was she a harlot, a floozy hanging from a rotting limb of my family tree? Or was she a woman ahead of her time?

The answer to those questions may forever elude me, as I have few authentic facts about her life. The rest is pure speculation. What I do know is this: First, she was physically attractive. I’d love to include her actual photo here, but my mother wouldn’t like it, and even on a bad day, she can still take me.

Second, I know that Sarah was poor. She was so poor, in fact, that she was virtually homeless for most of her life. She survived by living as a hired hand. She moved from place to place, performing common household duties, which consisted of brutal, manual labor. In exchange for her services, she was housed and fed until it was time to move on. This continued even after she went blind, which occurred while she was still relatively young.

This brings me to the third fact I know about her. She was a hard worker, a die-hard perfectionist who took pride in the quality of her work. Her station in life as a drifting laborer doesn’t appear to have caused her the pain of low self-esteem. Now, for the biggest surprise of all: Instead of being a social outcast or being branded as some kind of street strumpet, she was highly regarded by all who knew her. Somehow, this woman, living out of her time, managed to walk tall, with pride and an untarnished name.

The answer to this mystery may lie in simple geography. Sarah was born and bred in the mountains, away from the wagging tongues of city-dwellers or small-town gossip mongers. Mountain culture dictates a pervasive loyalty and cohesiveness. Through decades of physical isolation, mountaineers grew clannish, with a profound sense of family, a deep regard for their neighbors, and a natural suspicion of outsiders. They were protective of their own. Perhaps this accounts for their easy acceptance of a woman who would’ve otherwise been shunned.

Finally, as for the moral questions Sarah raised. I don’t buy into the “Loosey-Goosey” theory. I believe Sarah was not only a product of her time, but a victim, as well. From childhood, she was forced to labor for her existence, and lived at the mercy of her benefactors. Depending on the kindness of strangers, her very survival was defined by how well she pleased others. I think she was probably abused, maybe even raped, and it’s possible that some of her children may have been an outcome of this tragedy.

The fact that Sarah didn’t marry until late in life indicates that she probably didn’t trust men. Had she respected them or held them in high regard, she would’ve been more inclined to legally bind herself to one. Single women, after all, weren’t in vogue, once they reached a certain age. There’s also another clue to the real Sarah which haunts me. When my mother was a young girl, Sarah (who was her grandmother) cautioned her against being alone with a boy. She told her, “Boys are stronger than you. They can overpower you before you realize it and make you do things you don’t really want to do.”

Sarah fascinates me, not just because she’s my ancestor, but because she was different and had the courage to make the best of what life dealt her without indulging in self-pity. Without a home, husband, or station in life, she still had self-respect. We could learn much from her impoverished life. Moral of the story: people who live in stone houses shouldn’t throw glass…or, something like that.

July 22, 2012 / hippiechickamblings

Magic and Mahem

There’s a certain magic about summer, when viewed through the eyes of a child, that’s undeniable. Before we become jaded with too much living, before the scrim of cynicism blurs our vision, summer has a clarity and heady perfume about it that stirs our blood, igniting some giddy savage within. Every blade of grass stands out in sharp relief, a whiff of wild honeysuckle can make us drunk, and the warmth of the sun on our backs, buffered by the breeze whipped up on our bikes, is a siren’s call to freedom.

To a kid, summer is warmth and light and pure, unrestrained joy. It’s the loom where the most golden memories are woven into that glittering cape we can only wear a short time. But there’s always that one particular summer that stands out above the others, the one that sticks like those last stubborn grains of sand we can’t shake from our shoes. For me it was the summer of 1966. I learned how to swim that summer. It was also the summer I met the bear-man and learned about mass murder.

We vacationed in the Smoky Mountains that year, in a borrowed cabin out in the boonies. The cabin was no rental. That would’ve been beyond what my parents could afford. Funny, how it never occurred to me that we weren’t “well off.” All I knew was that adventure awaited me somewhere in the midst of those majestic peaks, their summits disappearing in a haze of violet. We did all the “touristy” things on that trip, visiting historical sites, national parks, seeing black bears up close, and wandering through a Cherokee reservation. I remember all those things, but only vaguely, like a remnant of a nearly-forgotten dream. What clings to me in the most vivid recall, what still gives me a shiver of delight and a tickle of fear, has nothing to do with bears or souvenirs.

If I close my eyes, I can still smell the sun-warmed leather of the bucket seats and feel the powerful rumble through the floorboards of our 1962 Buick Skylark, chewing up the miles as we rocketed south. How I loved that car with all its chrome and powder-blue metal, sleek as a bullet and roomy enough for a small village! My dad’s cousin rode in the back seat with me, grinning like a possum, teasing me with tales of how he and his brother built the pyramids. At rest stops I’d watch him roll his cigarettes, tapping the tobacco out of a Prince Albert tin into the thin rectangle of paper and giving it one quick swipe with his tongue. He made it seem like an art form. With his Levis, white t-shirts, and dark, slicked-back hair, Don reminded me of an aging James Dean without the cool.

I remember my mom, in her modest, one-piece bathing suit and swim cap with the pink rubber daffodils. Somehow, she still managed to look beautiful, splashing and dog-paddling in the creek we found just a short walk from the cabin. Aptly named Crystal Creek, it was the clearest, coolest water I’ve ever seen, ten feet deep at its widest point, with a smooth rock bottom you could see as easily as your hand in front of your face. I remember my dad’s laugh, ringing out over the water, the quiet seclusion of enveloping trees, and the feel of the damp, sandy bank beneath my bare feet. I remember that wobbly moment of anticipation as I stood on the great overhanging ledge, ready for the next dive, and that earthy, mineral smell of the rushing water. I can almost hear that hollow, singing sound it made as it bubbled around us.

There were no restaurants for elegant dining. We ate fresh vegetables from roadside stands and grilled meat purchased from a mom-and-pop butcher shop down the road. Evening meals were served at a long, wooden table on a vast, screened-in porch with a view of the woods and a puff of breeze at our backs. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything quite as good as Mom’s fried potatoes on that porch.  

Although there was no TV, entertainment was free. We had the Bear-man instead. Bear-man lived alone in a cabin not far from ours, and once he discovered us, he became a daily fixture. It never occurred to us to be wary of this total stranger. Serial killers were unheard-of in the news back then, and Deliverance hadn’t been filmed. No reason for fear.

Bear-man was a massive, barrel-chested mountaineer with intense, black eyes framed by bushy brows the color of dingy snow. Wearing grungy overalls and a salt-and-pepper flat-top haircut, he always came bearing gifts: packs of bear meat which he proudly bestowed on Mom, and which she secretly tossed. He claimed the meat was obtained through hand-to-paw combat with its previous wearer, during a most dramatic, life and death struggle. We listened. Nobody contradicted.

Mom still has a photo of Bear-man, seated in a ragged recliner with me standing beside him. I’m wearing a pair of brown, homemade shorts, a Batman t-shirt, and scuffed, bright orange Keds (yes, my fashion sense was in peril, even then). In the photo, I’m gazing up at him as though he holds the secrets to the universe, and with my choppy, pixie haircut and freckles, I bear a striking resemblance to Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird (though I bet you’d never catch HER wearing orange Keds).

Nights were spent playing Password and grazing on popcorn, popped in bacon grease. Instead of being sent to bed so the adults could play, I was allowed to stay up to participate, and I still remember the “warm fuzzy” that gave me. “You and me, we think alike,” Dad told me. “We’ll beat their socks off.” Looking back, I’m sure it was all intended to make me feel included, but it seemed that Dad and I won just about every game. At one point Cousin Don said, “I don’t think you’re a kid at all…I think you’re just wearing a “kid-suit.”

One evening, not long before we were due to come back home, Dad and I were outside, grilling burgers, while the rest were on the porch, setting the table. We were chatting and listening to music on a transistor radio, when suddenly, a breaking news story interrupted my favorite song. Dad froze, spatula in mid-flip, as an unseen anchorman, in clipped tones, dished up a plate of reality I’ve never forgotten.

An apartment in South Chicago…eight student nurses found stabbed to death…raped and tortured. EIGHT! Dad swallowed convulsively and lowered the spatula as if in slow motion. Mom, coming down the back steps with a dish towel in hand, stopped, her brown eyes widening as one hand drifted up to her throat. As they stood there like two statues, gooseflesh pebbled my arms and a peculiar chill skittered down my neck like a trickle of ice water.

“Come on in, come on now, time to eat,” Mom blurted, gesturing frantically for me to move.

As a swarm of nightmare images spun in my head, my throat worked against a clot of unshed tears, lodged there like a wet stone. My vision blurred and swam out of focus as a profound, unexplained sorrow welled within me. Eight women, dead! Those poor women! I wasn’t too clear on what rape or torture meant, but “stabbed” and “murdered” I could figure out.

“Dad? Daddy?” I stammered, my voice barely a croak. Suddenly, somehow, I was in his lap, strong arms enveloping me, the back of my head cupped easily against his broad chest. Wordlessly, he rocked me, making soft shushing noises, even though I hadn’t cried out. “I’ve got you. Don’t be afraid,” he said. Daddy’s got you.”

In the weeks to come, the news would be saturated with details of the gruesome horror endured by those eight young women, and the name of Richard Speck, an illiterate Texas drifter, would roam the pitted landscape of my dreams. That tragedy was my first introduction to a world populated with evil, but the fear and dread were kept at bay by the memory of my dad’s arms around me on that July evening in the Great Smokey Mountains. When it was all said and done, this was the summer of all summers. What about yours?

July 9, 2012 / hippiechickamblings

Light and Creamy Strawberry Freeze

I’m one of those people who believe that “light” or “healthy” desserts are a direct invention of Satan in dire need of exorcism. What a lie! If you’re going to indulge once in a while, don’t mess around with some fake dessert; do it for real! Right? However, there ARE times when something “light” can be utterly delicious and refreshing, especially when you’re in the midst of some freak heat wave that melts your mascara and bakes your brains as soon as you walk out the door. On days like that, a rich dessert can make you feel sick, rather than indulgent. Here’s just what the doctor ordered on such a day: It’s rich, thick, and deceptively luscious, without weighing you down. Plus, with healthy, fresh ingredients, even Mom would approve!


2 pks. unflavored gelatin

1/3 Cup boiling water

1 Cup cold water

2/3 Cups nonfat dry milk (yes, they still make powdered milk!)

1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract

1 Cup fresh whole strawberries, cleaned and frozen

2 pks. Splenda or other sugar substitute, or 2 tsp. honey

6-8 ice cubes

Empty pks. of gelatin in a blender and pour boiling water over them. Quickly add powdered milk, cold water, vanilla, sweetener, and frozen strawberries and start blender on medium to high speed. As it blends, feed ice cubes into blender until mixture froths and rises to the top. Immediately pour into tall plastic glasses or dessert dishes and put in freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. Resulting dessert will be ice-cold and pudding-like. Delicious!

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