On Patience & Sushi

Few who know Earline accuse her of having an overabundance of patience. Earline herself still remembers her kind, forbearing mama saying, “Sister, you have got to learn patience!” Earline loved her mama, she really did. And she wanted to please her. But some things just weren’t possible. What happened on a south Florida Tami-Ami Trail fishing trip back in 1959 shows how far she still was from developing that particular virtue.

Fishing figured largely in those southern Florida months, and not only for Earline and Betty’s weekday trips. Weekends, Earline, Bob, Betty, Al, Bruce, Carol, and Susan sometimes headed down to Key West, but most often out on the untamed Tamiami Trail. Some said that name came from a contraction—“Tampa to Miami Trail,” referring to the paved road across the wild Everglades. But Earline and her sister didn’t care much about the name; it was the fishing, picnicking, and occasional camping there they loved.  (p. 98)

On the particular day in question, we were all fishing, and we were all catching a lot of fish. Each of us felt glued to our favorite spots, as was Earline—a little way down the bank from the rest of us. She’d been catching so many fish, she’d used up all of her bait.

Desperate to continue the thrill of the catch, Earline yelled, “Hey, somebody bring me some bait. I can’t leave this spot for a minute!”

Nobody moved. Not a soul even acknowledged her plea, each intent on pulling his or her own prizes from those bountiful waters.

Earline called out again. No response. Good grief! What was wrong with everybody? She needed bait, and she needed it now.

Looking around her for possibilities, she spied a smaller fish she’d caught—a bream. It had been lying there on the bank for a bit, so it was a little sun-dried. Swooping it up with her hand, she raised it to her mouth, bit off its tail, and presto, she had bait, and she used it.

Years later, I asked her how it tasted. “It wasn’t bad,” she said. “Kind of sweet and flavorful.”

A fairly positive response from someone who shudders at the very thought of sushi. And a practical one from one whose patience has its limits.

Of Mountains & Beans

A detail. An impression. A scene, or a scent. Any one can evoke a memory. Cycling this fresh summer morning on one of Boulder’s quiet bike paths, breathing soft air, gazing at the still snow-capped mountains off in the distance, an image of those decades-ago summer trips with my mother, brother, sister and aunt came rushing back. The memory evoked was of that first, distant view of the mountains as we traveled west across the Colorado plains.

Those mountains had seemed a mirage hovering at the edge of the expansive plains, remote given the haze borne of physical distance and our months of longing for them. “I see them!” one of us would shout, a shout that was invariably followed by “I saw them first.” Then came the predictable bickering that springs from siblings co-existing in close quarters for many hours.

Sometimes, with the mountains in sight, we’d stop at a roadside picnic table for lunch. We loved those picnics, which was a good thing since restaurants were few and far between on many stretches of those mid-1950s highways. Earline always had picnic fixings along. She’d assign one of us to bring out the cooler full of cold drinks and cold cuts, another to bring the box of bread, crackers, and canned foods as she spread a cloth over the table.

Most often one of the cans held that picnic staple, baked beans, a dish my little sister abhorred. On one occasion, then four-year-old Susan decided she’d speak up about having to eat such dreadful fare. Balling her chubby little fists and placing them firmly on her hips while looking Earline right in the eye, in her high-pitched voice she delivered the message to her tormentor. “Mama, if I was Mama and you was me, and you didn’t like beans, I would make you eat beans anyway!”

Earline was not to forget that message, nor was Susan to eat beans for some time. Smiling as I pedaled alongside Boulder Creek, I mused about how a mountain scene can somehow remind one of beans.             ~~~

Susan — Annoyed

Susan taking a stand

Susan taking a stand, but in a better humor than with the bean incident.

(Photos by Earline,circa 1953-4)

Roll, Roll, Roll that Cigarette

Stories about family sometimes come up in unlikely places, as Earline and I learned a couple of years ago. We were at Ms. Pencie Wester’s viewing in Marianna. Ms. Pencie, who passed at the age of 102, knew almost everybody in Jackson County, Earline and her eldest brother, Red, included.

We were talking with Ms. Pencie’s daughter, Billie, expressing our condolences, when Billie asked my mother, “Red was your brother, wasn’t he?” When Earline nodded yes, Billie chuckled and went on to tell this tale.

Shortly after a family tragedy in the late 1930s, Ms. Pencie decided, as a protective measure, to learn how to shoot a gun. She’d practice every day, out by the house, aiming across the empty fields.

Red, who took on various kinds of jobs, was plowing a field for Ms. Pencie. One day, after plowing for quite a while, he stopped to roll a cigarette. Carefully placing tobacco in the paper, rolling it up and securing the end, Red was just putting the cigarette in his mouth, when a bullet came whizzing by his ear, barely missing his head. The startled Red jumped, dropping his cigarette, and turned around to see Ms. Pencie standing out by the house, rifle by her side. She’d been practicing, unaware that Red was working that day.

Imagine big Red, standing in the field, mouth open staring at Ms. Pencie with her gun, and Ms. Pencie, probably equally surprised, staring right back. After considering the situation for a minute or two, Red strolled over to her. In a voice tinged with surprise, he said, “That’s the first time anybody’s shot at me for rolling a smoke.”

 ~~~

And then on a trip to New Orleans with first wife, Margaret, right, and his sister-in-law . . .

another smoking challenge


Trade Show Tricks

Our first book signing together and it happened on May 7th, the day before Mother’s Day, at Chipola River Books & Tea in Marianna, Florida. Bookshop owner Michael Downum provided a gracious setting for the special event. Candy gemstones friend Jayne Satter found in Mexico were part of the fun. I read, Earline enacted, and friends joined in from this scene from Chapter 17, “On the Road to Sell.”

The New York City trade show was held at the imposing Coliseum on Columbus Avenue, the structure a staggering 323,000 square feet in all, with four floors for exhibition. On the cavernous main level, vendors packed the enormous space with their displays of jewelry, tee shirts, caps, cups, key chains, and other imaginative forms of souvenirs. Merchandise seemed to spill out of every nook, every cranny.

Sounds crowded every space, too. Everywhere was the buzz of excited vendors, buyers, casual lookers, the hum of humanity meandering through aisles, pausing at displays, conferring, acquaintances calling out to one another. Clatter and chatter filled the air.

Petite Earline, dressed smartly in an azure blue pantsuit, a color she knew echoed in her eyes, sat at her booth. She also knew she needed to draw attention to the gemstones Al had sent her to show and, most importantly, to sell.

She’d heaped the stones on the display table so they lolled in happy profusion across the white cloth beneath them. Silky tiger’s eye with wavy bands of color, the blues and greens of chrysocolla—often mistaken for turquoise, tawny palm wood with its dark speckles. Potential customers strolled by, their eyes caught by the mass of little rocks. A few stopped, then moved on.

As a few more potential buyers approached, Earline reached into the mound and pulled out a blue-gray stone. She examined it for a moment then nonchalantly popped it into her mouth. She chewed, and her eyes closed as she savored the delicious rock. She opened her eyes, chose another, this one with a rosy glow, and slowly, deliberately dropped it into her mouth. Again she savored the unique flavor.

By this time a crowd had gathered, blocking the aisle. Several people wanted to eat a gemstone. Some started to reach for them.

“No, no! You’ll break your teeth,” Earline laughed, amazed and delighted that there still were so many folks willing to be gullible, just as there were decades ago when she was with the carnival.

Finally, she allowed one person to take one she’d pointed out. She didn’t tell him some were gemstone candies she’d slipped in, and only she knew which were which. She cautioned him, “Now don’t let it break your teeth.”

Gingerly he raised the stone, placed it in his mouth, and with deliberation bit down. A twinkle crept into his eyes as he chewed.

In the end, she took an enormous order for gemstones. A Kellogg representative wanted several tons of them for Corn Flakes’ trinkets. It was an order to match the size of this exhibition hall.

Later, when she reported to Al about it, he jumped up from his chair and exploded. “There’s no way I can get that many gemstones! And then they’ll just want more, and I can’t get them. Those New York guys will sue hell out of me!”

“Well, Al,” she said. “You sent me there to sell gemstones, and I sold them.” It seemed to her the rest of the deal was his problem.

(L to R) Exchange student Elisa from Switzerland, Pat Tenzer (see p. 226), Earline, Pat's daughter, Janet and granddaughter Shelby at Chipola River Books & Tea--munching on gemstones.

 

Satsuma Mischief

Earline’s childhood was filled with the everyday workings of a large family that included her parents, nine children, and her daddy’s brother, Uncle Lon. But when the kids weren’t working, doing chores, in school, or playing jackknife or poker, they’d find other ways to amuse themselves, and at times it was at someone else’s expense. A favorite target was poor Broward Davis. One night they all decided to go over into Will Wester’s satsuma patch.They told Broward they needed a place to put the satsumas, tying his overalls at his ankles, stuffing his overalls full of the fruit. They’d posted someone who was to come down just at the right moment and yell, “Come out or I’m gonna shoot!”

But a different person came along down the railroad, which went right by the satsuma patch. It was Grady Hamm, who at his own inspiration yelled, “I’m gonna shoot. You’d better get outta there!” An unexpected voice, an unpredicted twist!

A mad scramble ensued, kids getting over and through the barbed wire fence as fast as they possibly could. But Broward, overalls stuff with fruit, could barely walk, and he sure couldn’t run. Somehow he managed to get to the fence, but when he tried to get over it, he got caught on the barbed wire. Sawing back and forth, unable to bend his legs to get himself unstuck, he was at the mercy of whoever was yelling at them. Broward was yelling, too.“Help me! Help me! Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.”

All the other kids had run away by the time Grady found Broward, who breathed an obvious sigh of relief when he discovered it was just Grady Hamm trying to scare them all. And at least someone did finally get him off the wire and rid his overalls of all those satsumas.

During that scramble, Earline had fallen on the railroad tracks and cut her knee. She would have that scar the rest of her life to remind her of the satsuma episode. And as if that weren’t enough, she’d have her daughter writing about it for everyone to see.

 

Sweet Harmony

As I wrote earlier, this blog seems a perfect place to share some of the memories and events that didn’t make it into the book. One of Earline’s memories that I love is about her Granddaddy Stevens. For me, this scene evokes the peacefulness of a summer evening, the comfort of likeminded neighbors, and the sweet simplicity of a time gone by.

Of all the places the family lived, Earline liked the Brunson place best. Here she and her family stayed in a small house a few hundred feet down the hill from the main home, but still on Brunson property. For the last few years of his life, until 1937 when he passed, Granddaddy Stevens, lived with them. At night Judge Brunson and Granddaddy would sit on their respective porches a partial hillside apart. Judge Brunson would start out singing— always church songs, his voice rumbling out from deep within. Then Granddaddy Stevens would softly join in, the two sonorous voices rising and blending in a distant sweet harmony. The comforting sound floated out into a darkness sporadically interrupted by the twinkling of myriad fireflies. Rock of ages, cleft for me .. . . Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

Can’t you just hear it?

How to Carry Chickens

Working with my mother, Earline, to learn more about her life and write this book was a gift to me. I did, indeed, learn many things, and not just about her life. On a first draft of the scene in which she walks to town to trade two Rhode Island Red hens (Chapter Three, “Back to Memories”) for shoes, I imagined the hens already dead. So I described her carrying the hens right side up, their feet almost dragging the ground. The laughter this prompted when Earline read it was really something. It was obvious I’d never carried chickens anywhere, nor had I traded them for anything. Those two Rhode Island Reds were very much alive on that trip, and Earline got her shoes. Next time, I’ll know better!

Here’s how the scene came out in the end:
She carried the hens by their feet, one in each hand, their heads just barely clearing the ground if Earline bent her elbows and held her arms up enough. Funny that the hens didn’t fight you if you held them that way, upside down. (p. 39)

About Earline

 

 

 

 

Mom & the Marine Corps

 

 

 

Please visit the Excerpt & Photo pages. 

Earline WilsonBecause I couldn’t get everything in a single book, this blog will include more stories about Earline–her family, friends, and pets. Stay tuned!