Archive for December, 2010

Homemade Rolls, Pound Cake, and a few Cats

December 30, 2010

Georgia called the other night.

“Hey, when is that boy of yours coming home again?”

“He’ll be home tomorrow,” I said. “Goes back Saturday.”

“I’ve been promising him some yeast rolls for months now. What time do you get off work Friday?”

“Four-thirty,” I said. “Ben wants to go by the Verizon Store to get a new phone and we’re meeting my parents for supper at Teresa’s Café at six o’clock though, so we’ll be on a pretty tight timeline, why?”

“I’m making Ben some bread and I have a chocolate chip pound cake for him in the freezer as well. I’d bring it by, but Earl’s been having some heart problems and I don’t want to leave him here by himself.”

“We’ll be going right past your house on the way to Teresa’s,” I said. “We can drop by to pick up the rolls and cake. That’s awfully sweet of you to do Georgia.”

“You know when Mama was in the nursing home, Ben visited her every week and she loved your boy better than she did cookies, and she loved cookies. He’s a good boy. I want to do this, and I want to see him.”

“Sure we can come by. We’ll see you a little before six then.”

I called Ben to relay the news. He loves Georgia and Earl. They are a married couple who argue and fuss with each other most of their waking hours. They never had children, but take care of everyone around them. Georgia wrote the cookbook for the Volunteer Rescue Squad Auxillary fundraiser, and Earl ran with the fire department until his legs gave out. He’s a long time member of the community Band. He plays the tuba.

We’ve never been to Earl and Georgia’s House. We either see them at the nursing home, or bump into them at the grocery or hardware store in town. Sometimes, they stop by our house on their way to or from Charlottesville. We spend forty-five minutes listening to their bickering banter, not being able to get a word in edgewise, just listening and laughing, before they reach in a bag and hand us a homemade goodie. They hug and kiss us before they leave. It may be a cliché, but Georgia’s baked goods melt in your mouth. We have fought over the last brownie or piece of spice cake.

On Friday evening, when Ben and I pulled into Earl and Georgia’s driveway, cats scattered. There must have been five or six, all colors, all sizes. Three small dogs jostled for position in the bay window facing us and one jumped up and down at the storm door on the side porch, his head, reappearing in the glass every few seconds. All the dogs barked, non-stop.

Ben and I got out of the car and headed to the front door.

“Back here,” Georgia called from the side porch.

She opened the door for us and when we stepped into the house, both of us stopped. The stench was overwhelming, a combination of cat pee amonia, dog poop, stale urine, canned cat food, moth balls and wet dog. Ben and I exchanged a glance. We turned to the couple and we smiled. They reached out, arms open and hugged us tight.

“Well, look at you, young man. How much taller have you gotten?” Earl asked, clasping Ben’s hand in his and slapping him on the back.

Ben smiled and coughed, his eyes watering. I knew it was the smell, not his emotions. Georgia opened the window over the sink to let a cat in. It walked over to the plate of moist gray meat on the counter and began to lick the food. Georgia petted the tabby absentmindedly.

“What time do you leave to go back to college tomorrow?” she asked Ben.

“Have to pull out pretty early in the morning,” he said. “I’ve got a staff meeting in the afternoon I have to be back for.”

I knew the staff meeting was at 5:00 in the afternoon. It takes two and a half hours to drive back to Ferrum. Ben was warding off a second invite.

While Georgia wrapped and bagged the bread and cake, Earl took us on a tour of the house. There were dogs and cats, litter boxes, balls of fur and chew toys in every room. Cats perched on shelves, under cabinets, acted as centerpieces on tables, padded across counter tops and lazed in window sills. All the dogs followed after us, barking.

“Shut up dogs,” Georgia yelled from the kitchen.

Earl introduced us, “This is Yellow Cat, Bingo, Jeff, Mutt, Punkin, Spot, Dribbles…” On and on he went, picking them up petting and kissing them. Ben and I petted, patted and cooed to them. Earl showed us his framed goodbye poster from his 30 year anniversary party at GE where he spent his working years. We marveled at Georgia’s salt and pepper shaker collection, her cookbook collection and got to see Earl’s computer where he emails forty lonely old ladies around the world, just to keep them company.

“Shut up that barking,” Earl yelled at the dogs. They didn’t listen.

We walked back into the kitchen. Georgia stood beaming, holding out three packages, each with a dozen homemade yeast rolls. Cats had collected at her feet.

Earl pointed to the rolls and said, “I didn’t get anything but a smell. She didn’t even give me one to eat.”

Ben offered him one of the wrapped ones, but Earl laughed and said, “I was only funnin’ you Ben. Those are yours. She made me some of my own.”

Georgia handed Ben the rolls and he leaned down as she stood on tip toe to kiss his cheek. “We love you boy. You know that don’t you? You were so good to my Mama. She loved you too. You take these rolls and this cake back to college with you and share if you want to, but if you don’t want to, that’s ok, you can eat them all by yourself.”

“Thank you Georgia. I appreciate these. That was awfully nice of you to do. Not sure whether I’ll share or not. Your cooking is the best,” Ben said.

Earl walked us out to the car. He showed us where he’d moved six azalea plants that week and where he’d decorated the hay bale with black and orange ceramic cats for the children in the neighborhood. He picked up another cat, Dumpy, and introduced us. “There’s about six others you didn’t get to see,” he said. “They’ll show up tonight when it starts to get cool. They like to come in and sleep with us where it’s warm.” I imagined all those cats and dogs in Earl and Georgia’s bed.

Earl hugged us. We got in the car, waved to him and Georgia as they stood on the porch, smiling, their arms around each other’s waists. Ben and I were silent until we reached the end of Apple Lane.

“Mom,” Ben said. “have you ever smelled anything so bad in your life?”

“No, Ben, can’t say as I have.”

“If I count right,” Ben said. “they have twenty-two cats and six dogs.”

“Sure felt like that many to me,” I said.

“Do you think Earl and Georgia know how bad it smells?

“I doubt it. They’re probably used to it by now.”

“My head hurts,” Ben said. “Do you have any Advil?”

“Sure, right here in my purse.”

He dug around in my purse, pulled out the bottle and threw two of the pills back with some bottled water. He was quiet during the rest of the ride. We rounded the corner onto Three Notched Road and drove toward Teresa’s Café. We were almost there when Ben said, “Mom?”

“Yeah,”

“You know I love Earl and Georgia don’t you?”

“Of course Ben, I love them too.”

“As much as I love them,” he said. “I don’t think I can eat those rolls or the cake.”

“I don’t think I could either Ben. It’s alright.”

“What should we do with them? I hate to throw them out. She spent a lot of time making them.”

“I know,” I said. “Georgia did say you could share. I think that might be a good idea.”

Ben smiled, “Staff meeting tomorrow,” he said.

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Things Remembered

December 13, 2010

The existence of Things Remembered is spread by word of mouth because it sits off the main road, three miles from town, next to the old boarded up Greenwood School and across the paved road from the square, cinderblock post office. The building was a general store in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Worn pine board steps lead up to a long covered porch. It stretches across the front of the wood-sided structure.

An old bedstead, seven rickety and broken apple boxes, a Radio Flier wagon, missing its back right wheel and some of its letters to rust, and an orange and white Gulf sign from a closed service station, all clearance items, sit outside, stacked and forlorn, leaning their rusted bodies against each other, trying to look salable. Silver tinsel is laced through the junk. A life-size cardboard cutout of Santa smiles next to the front door. The jolly man’s coat buttons strain with his girth. He looks happy though, holding his green-gloved hand up, pointing an index finger, like he wants to interrupt a visitor to announce his Christmas secret. His pack of presents rests between black boots. The doll peeking over the top of the bag is missing her smile; it’s smudged away with age.

The door to the shop has one of those brass handles with a thumb-push latch, polished shiny from use. A bell tinkles above the door and the warmth generated by a cast iron woodstove squatting in the floor, greets the visitor before the saleslady behind the counter has an opportunity.

“Come on in,” she says looking up from her work. “It’s cold out there.”

“Thanks, it feels good in here,” the last-minute shopper says.

This store isn’t crowded like the mall. The latest technological gadgets are not found here. Bing Crosby croons from the CD player on the counter. There is no bustle, no artificially sprayed scent of holiday baking or forest pine. This place smells of dust and old stories. Nothing new is sold here, just nostalgia shelved and labeled with tags baring a price and the initials of each antique dealer.

“Anything I can help you find?”

“No I’m just looking. Some people are so hard to buy for. I was hoping for last minute inspiration.”

“Let me know if I can help you. I’ll be here working on my Christmas cards.”

“Thanks.”

The store is divided into separate booths, each arranged differently. The ones decorated as particular rooms draw the shopper. One corner booth is set up like a kitchen. It reminds her a little of her Grandmother’s. The kitchen table is different, the dishes too, but the cake stand is familiar. She reaches a finger out to touch the glass stand, remembering the cake from her eighth birthday, chocolate, with nine pink candles, one extra to grow on. She had blown them out with one breath. Everyone clapped. Her Grandmother would be ninety-one now.

A little further on, she spies an enamel chamber pot. It has a red ring, just like the one her mother told the story about. Two sisters, sent to town to buy it, neither wanting to carry it to the car, for embarrassment. Her mother drew the short straw and huffed out of the store, hurrying down the street. She tripped, jarring the top loose. It rolled half a block, her sister chasing it down, turning as red as the ring. The shopper stifles a giggle, remembering her mother’s own laugh.

In the very back room of the antique shop, the girl catches the glint of an aluminum Christmas Tree from the 60’s. Its shiny silver branches sparkle with reflection. Some years ago, when she asked her mother what became of a similar tree they had at home, her mother said, “That tacky thing?” It hadn’t seemed tacky at the time. It was the most beautiful tree the girl had ever seen. She remembers blue glass ornaments on the tree from her childhood. Multi-color decorations hang on this one.

The vendor decorated this stall as if Santa had just emptied his bag. A Lionel train chugs around the base of the tree. A curly haired doll sips tea from a china set on a miniature table. A red Radio Flier wagon with all its wheels and lettering, holds a stuffed bear, lion and tiger, all friends, anxiously awaiting Christmas morning. A bright yellow ball and a red book, round out the toys. The vendor even left a plate of sweets for Santa. The girl picks up the shiny red book. It is The Night Before Christmas, just like the one she had at home, the one her mother read to her on Christmas eve. She opens the book to an inscription: Little One, May all your Christmases be Merry and Bright. With Love, Mama and Daddy. She stands and reads the book, cover to cover, remembering. The price tag reads, $2.99 sc.

“Find what you were looking for?” the saleslady asks.

“Sure did,” she says, paying for the book.

“You have a Merry Christmas,” the saleslady says.

“I will. You do the same.”

A man opens the door. He’s holding a cardboard box of attic finds. He smiles and holds the door open as the shopper leaves. She looks at the man, thanks him for his courtesy and glances at the contents of his crate. Peeking over the edge is a doll like the one in Santa’s pack by the front door. She notices that this doll has her smile intact.

Your Paramount Theater

December 5, 2010

Last night I watched Clarence earn his wings and restore George Bailey’s greatest gift. Usually the movie plays on television sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I rarely miss it. My boys drift by the room and roll their eyes when they see me crying.

“It’s just a movie, Mom.”

Last night, Ryan pacified me by being my escort to the seven o’clock showing of It’s A Wonderful Life on the big screen at the Paramount, downtown.

The theater is one of those old Bijou-type movie houses from the thirties with its marquee surrounded and lit by rows of individual bulbs. The Paramount used to front Main Street in Charlottesville before the thoroughfare was turned into a pedestrian mall. Now, people park at one end or the other and make the trek four blocks to the box office. A brisk wind from the West pushed us toward the theater last night. I was wrapped in wool, and topped with a hat. Ryan wore shorts and his North Face Fleece. The forty foot evergreen in front of the theater was lit with white twinkle lights. Red, Silver, Blue and Gold Ornaments the size of grapefruit decorated the branches. It looked and felt like Christmas.

The original Paramount closed in 1974 when newer, smaller, multi-plex buildings opened further North on Rt. 29. Miller and Rhoads, Leggett, Downtown Athletic, and Keller and George Jewelers all abandoned Main Street for the suburbs, where stores were enclosed in a mall and parking was in one big lot without timed meters. The old theater sat for a long time with its doors boarded shut and its red velvet interior sagging into disrepair.

When I was in elementary school, the Paramount had summer movie specials. My mother bought a pass at the beginning of summer vacation and each week I rode the bus downtown. The theater back then was a rich, dark red, with soda-sticky floors and air that smelled of hot buttered popcorn. It seemed like every child in Charlottesville pushed and shoved down the aisle to get the best up-front seat to see Swiss Family Robinson, Sounder, The Love Bug, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

As families moved from the center of the city, downtown took a down turn. Workmen boarded up the storefronts and crime seeped in through the side streets toward Main. The City of Charlottesville planned revitalization and laid brick on Main Street in 1976, making it a pedestrian mall. The old Hardware Store with its ceiling-high wooden ladders, original adding machines and wooden tool bins became a restaurant by the same name, serving gourmet dishes with a “Nuts and Bolts” Ice Cream Sundae for ten. Large Department stores were carved into small specialty shops selling eclectic goods from foreign lands, high thread count sheets from France, Turkish rugs, Belgium Chocolates and English Teas.

In 1996 rumor wound through Charlottesville that the Paramount was on a demolition list. The children who enjoyed summer movies in the sixties were grown now, had jobs, and because they remembered, they had other ideas about their Paramount. A movement to renovate took root and the Paramount was given a reprieve. The Paramount became a not-for-profit, and donations saved it.

Eighteen million dollars later, gold and green replaced red, and movies disappeared in favor of live operas, Shakespearian plays, classical pianists, and lectures by famous people who drew sold-out audiences. My Aunt Carol bought me tickets to see Swan Lake. The two of us dressed up fine and were dazzled by the building’s new digs. Even though the Director took center stage before the production and proclaimed, “Welcome to Your Paramount Theater,” it didn’t feel like my Paramount. It felt too grown up, dressed in diamonds and furs, serving wine, and pausing for intermission.

If it weren’t for It’s A Wonderful Life, I’d have passed up the Paramount last night, but I wanted Ryan to slide down Main Street Bedford Falls in George Bailey’s shoes, feel the bite of snow as well as Mr. Potter’s wrath, and the warmth of human kindness in as big a way as one can. I wanted the tinkle of that bell when Clarence receives his wings to ring as clear and true in Ryan’s ears as it did in George’s.

This was a date for us, a son indulging his mother in one of her favorite treats. We stepped to the box office, bought our tickets for six dollars apiece and entered the doors of the theater.

I smelled popcorn. The Paramount was popping popcorn and scooping it into long paper bags just like when I was a little girl. Ryan and I bought two bags of popcorn and two Pepsi’s. We joined the multi-generation crowd making its way down the aisle to those new gold seats. Ryan found us two together five rows back from front in the center section.

The lights dimmed, the Director took center stage and said, “Welcome to Your Paramount Theater.” And, for the first time since the early seventies, it really did feel like my Paramount Theater.