Archive for February, 2012

The Lure of Chicken Wire

February 29, 2012

Have you ever fallen in love with a piece of furniture? Out of the blue, just looked at it and said, “Oh my gosh, I have to have that dresser,” or “that’s the prettiest blanket chest I’ve ever laid eyes on,”  or “I can’t imagine sleeping under any other headboard but that one?”  Well it happened to me again on Saturday. I was driving past the Greenwood Country Store, and there it sat on the front porch, pretty as you please, a kitchen cabinet.  It called to me. I could hear it through the closed windows of the car, and as I got closer, I realized this was the exact same piece of furniture I had missed out on five years before.

It looked at me and said, “I need a home.”

And it did.  I felt just as sorry for that piece of furniture as I would a stray dog. It almost looked the same as it had five years before, but was now a bit worse for wear.  When I parked the car in front of the store, I was also in front of the cabinet. It was like a hoosier cabinet, but a poor man’s version. It stood about five feet tall, three feet wide, and two feet deep. The bottom half had closed doors with a wooden spool knob. The top was what grabbed my heart though. At one time, I think the cabinet doors had four panes of glass, but something must have happened to break them, because in their place, was chicken wire.

The last time I saw this piece of furniture was at the antique sale at the park in town. The cupboard had a three hundred fifty dollar price tag then, and I didn’t have the funds to buy it. Bruce said he wasn’t putting three hundred fifty dollars into anything that had chicken wire stapled to the front of it.

“Oh I’ve found you,” I said to the little cabinet, knowing this was a match that was meant to be. I got out of the car and stepped up beside the piece of furniture. I pushed on it to see how sturdy it was. It stood solidly, didn’t even groan under my weight.  I opened the cabinet doors to find four holes drilled into the back, and a shelf missing. There were layers and layers of peeling white paint on the outside and someone had painted the upper inside of the cabinet turquoise. Still, it made my heart happy to find it even in the shape it was in.

The bell jangled when I walked into the store.  “Come on in,” the owner said. “How are you today?”

“Doing fine,” I said. “How much you want for the white cabinet on the porch?”

“Two-fifty,” she said.

Well that was better than its original price of three-fifty, but with all the wear, the holes and peeling paint. I still didn’t like it two-fifty worth.  I called Bruce.

“What kind of shape is it in?” He asked.

I explained.

“Where are you gonna put it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I really like it. Remember we saw it a few years ago? Beverly showed it to us at the antique show and I wanted it then.  I still want it.”

I could hear Bruce scrubbing his face with his hand, trying to remember something that he hadn’t liked to begin with, and not having luck.

“I know you remember the chicken wire,” I said, trying to make him remember.

“No, I don’t,” he mumbled, and then said something about wanting a Mercedes Benz himself, but not needing one.

“You ought to see it though,” I said. “At least come look at it.”

“The trailer’s hooked to the truck. I’m not going to drag all the lawn mowers up to Greenwood. Offer her one-fifty and see what she says.”

I walked around the store. I hate haggling. My mother’s an antique dealer and my husband wheels and deals all day long with equipment. I was not born with the haggle gene.  I looked at china plates, antique school desks, framed prints of horses and children, silver plated tea sets, and tin biscuit cutters. I wasn’t interested in any of those items. I was gathering courage.

“Would you take less for the cabinet?” I asked.

“How much less?” the owner asked, looking out the window at my little kitchen cabinet.

“One fifty?” I asked.  I know I flinched when I said it. That offer seemed like a slap in the face to me.

“I can’t take less than two hundred,” she said. “The couple next door bought it from me for three-fifty, used it as an entertainment center until they found something better. They’d like to at least get two hundred for it, no less.”

Now I knew why there were holes in the back, and it made me mad. Why do people want to ruin something perfectly wonderful?  “I’m just not sure I can afford two hundred, and they drilled holes in the back,” I complained, hoping she’d see my side. When she didn’t come around, I said, “Let me call my husband.”

I went back out to the car and called Bruce back. “Come and get me,” he said. “I’ll ride with you to take a look at it.”

As I drove home, I thought about someone happening upon the store and my cabinet, whisking it out from under me before I got back. I drove like a mad woman, taking all those crooked back roads like something big and bad was chasing me. I kept hearing that cabinet call my name.

When we arrived back at the store, Bruce got out and stood in front of the cupboard.  He frowned and I just smiled big, so excited to find it again, to have the opportunity to actually own it, hoping my enthusiasm would rub off on my husband.  “You realize its been sitting out here in the weather for awhile don’t you?” He asked me. “The paint’s peeling. Who drilled holes in the back?  There’s a shelf missing.”

My little cabinet sagged under Bruce’s scrutiny and insults. Leave it to Bruce to point out everything about that beautiful piece of furniture that needed fixing.  I countered with every good point I could think of. “It’s a perfect small size for the house. It has good storage space. It’s quaint and original.”

“Original is the word alright. Whoever saw chicken wire on the front of a kitchen cabinet? The only thing chicken wire will keep out of a kitchen cabinet is chickens and they don’t roam around inside the house.”

“The chicken wire was what drew me to it in the first place,” I said. “It’s my favorite part of the piece. Don’t you remember it now?”

He didn’t.

We walked into the store and Bruce scanned the shelves, picking up old tools, looking for a brass belt buckle. He showed the owner a picture of the vintage candy machine he has in the garage. He wants to sell it and hoped she’d put it on consignment.  He stalled, not saying a thing about my cabinet, making me squirm.

Finally, he asked the owner about the piece of furniture. She repeated her story to him. “I can’t take less than two hundred. The couple is already losing money on it.”

“They didn’t do it any favors by drilling holes in the back, adding that turquoise paint or letting it sit outside for the paint to peel.  I can’t see putting more than one-fifty into it,” Bruce said, turning back to a cross cut saw on the shelf closest to me.

I had my checkbook with me. I had two hundred dollars. I was willing to write the check, hand it to her. The little white piece of furniture was out there on the front porch, begging. I inhaled, starting to say something, but Bruce shot a look at me.  I kept quiet, but the owner didn’t budge.

“You open tomorrow?” Bruce asked.

I had a funeral to go to the next day. I couldn’t come back the next day. Someone might buy it before the next day. What was my husband thinking?

“Twelve to five,” the owner said.

“We might be back,” Bruce said, taking my hand and leading me out the door.

My hang-dog look didn’t stop him. Bruce didn’t turn back, didn’t even look back, didn’t slow his stride. He walked out the door and past my cupboard. It whined behind me. I followed Bruce, planning to give him a piece of my mind once we were in the car. I’d stomp back into that store and buy my cabinet, support or no support from my husband.  We stepped off the porch, Bruce opened the car door for me, and I sat down heavily into the seat, crossing my arms over my chest. Before he could close the car door though, the owner came out with a cell phone pressed to her ear. She held up a hand, beckoning us to wait.

“They said they’ll take one seventy-five,” she said.

“Tell them we’ve got one-fifty,” Bruce said.

I held my breath, and so did the cabinet.

I beamed as we placed my little kitchen cabinet gently into the back of the Honda.  “Come on little cabinet, we’re going home where you belong,” I said, hearing the piece of furniture sigh contentedly as I closed the hatch.

We got in the car and left the store behind. “Thank you,” I said to Bruce, leaning over to give him a peck on the cheek.

“Chicken wire,” Bruce said with disdain as he shook his head.

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Scalloped Potatoes

February 26, 2012

Margaret Dawn! What have you gotten yourself into this time?

Well, let’s see, today, it’s my Mama’s scalloped potatoes. I’ve never made them because for every family function, my boys ask their Maw-Maw to bring hers. And, hers are the best, a 13”x9” baking dish layered with sliced potatoes, onion, and sharp cheddar cheese, baked in milk and butter, seasoned with salt and pepper. Sounds simple, huh? Open her oven door, scan for bubbly cheese and inhale the aroma, oh The Aroma.

She didn’t learn her cooking skills from my grandma. Grandma didn’t allow anyone in her kitchen. Mama and her sisters did their best to carry on their mother’s tradition, to master her recipes, to write down the ingredients. Once they were grown, they met weekly in one  or another of their kitchens, prepared one of Grandma’s meals, and critiqued the results. If there was a question about a missing taste, one of the sisters called grandma to inquire nonchalantly in conversation about ingredients. Southern women are funny about their recipes. They don’t give up their secrets easily, and sometimes not at all. Grandma always gave up her secrets to her daughters though; they were special. It just took an hour long, sit-down telephone conversation which included all the news of Aunt Hallie’s latest six page letter, Grandpa’s newest, largest ‘Big Boy’ tomato, and who wore what to church on Sunday. My aunts and mother took turns making the weekly call.

 My mama’s getting up there. She’s pushing seventy-eight now, about the age my grandma was then, and she never liked anyone in her kitchen when she was cooking either.  I’ve never attempted to make her scalloped potatoes. I think I have the right ingredients, but I call her just to make sure. Exactly an hour later, after answering her questions: What’s Ryan up to with two days off from school? Did Ben make it back alright from the concert? How much snow did we get today? How’s my cold? Did I cook that roast in the crock pot like I was talking about? Has Bruce finished fixing the manure spreader?  I broach the subject. “How do you make scalloped potatoes?” I ask.

“Don’t you make them like I do?” She asks.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made them. You always make them.”

“Oh,” she says. “The only time you eat them is when I make them?”

We go to Mama’s for dinner every Sunday. It’s our time together. My boys count on it. They give up paintball outings, and hanging out at the brewery for her cooking and hugs.  

“I guess so. The boys expect you to make them, and we always bring the leftovers home from Sunday dinner.” They’re our Wednesday evening starch, reheated.

We didn’t go to their house for dinner today. That’s unusual, but I have a cold and if Mama catches one, it goes into bronchitis and then her asthma kicks up and she has to have steroids to get over the sickness. We don’t want to chance that. So tonight, I’m attempting scalloped potatoes.

“I’ve got the potatoes peeled and sliced. How much onion do you use?”

“I use two.”

“Of those huge onions?”

“No, two medium onions or one of those large ones. The onions are important. They add flavor. Don’t skimp on them.”

“Ok, so you cook the potatoes and onions in salted water until the onions are done and the potatoes are just tender, right.”

 
“Yep, make sure you don’t overcook the potatoes. Remember, they’ll cook some more when you bake them.”

“Then what?”

“Drain the potatoes and onions and spread a layer in the pan. Then slice sharp cheddar cheese from the block, about a quarter inch thick and put a layer of cheese over the potatoes and onions.”

“Sharp?”

“That’s what I use. Now you can use regular cheddar, but I think sharp is better.”

I make a note. Now Bruce has to go to the grocery store when I get off the phone. He’ll argue about the cheese, but I’m not veering from her instructions.

“What next?” I ask.

“Then you repeat another layer of potatoes and onions and end with a layer of cheese on top. Then you add the milk and butter.”

“Two percent OK?”

“Oh no, not regular milk, I use canned milk.  Take one can of evaporated milk, add a can of water, mix it and then pour it into the baking dish. Then you just dot it with butter, sprinkle it with pepper to make it pretty and bake it. Easy as you please.”

I add canned milk to my grocery list. At least Bruce will be going to the store for more than one thing.

“Bake it at 350 for how long?” I ask.

“Til it gets done. You know how it looks, bubbly and a little brown.”

“About forty-five minutes to an hour?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“You want me to make a pan and send it over with Grandpa Gilly?” She asks.

“Thanks Mama, but no. It’s snowing and the roads are getting slick. I’m going to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

She calls a few hours later. I’m in the bathtub. Ben answers the phone. I can hear his side of the conversation and know it’s my Mama on the phone. He tells her about the concert and about driving home in the snow. They talk about his classes at grad school and he reassures her he’ll drive carefully tomorrow. Then she asks about the scalloped potatoes.

“They were alright,” he says, “but not as good as yours.”

Even though I can’t see her face, I know she’s smiling on the other end of the phone.  

She’s more like her mother than she thinks. Now it’s up to me to figure out what it was she left out of the recipe. I’ll call tomorrow night, and we’ll talk.