Tag Archives: childhood memories

My Homely, Homey, Home-Made Sort of Christmas Tree . . .

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First thing this morning, streaks of pink and orange crossing the sky, a touch of frost on the grass. It’s cold and I am bleary-eyed from too little sleep.

Time to go and fetch a Christmas tree, a real one for the first time in years, and the first real tree that wasn’t purchased for charitable support of some sort. Nothing shipped in from a Christmas tree farm. Just a home-grown number.

I pull on a lightweight sweater and my jeans and put on my Elf Shoes Version 2.0.–red hi-top Nikes with one glittery green lace and one green-and-white-striped lace. I grab my newly washed red fleece cape with the hood–yes, call me Not-so-Little Red Riding Hood. I’m still cold so I grab my sequined Santa hat and pop it on my head. My husband walks by as I adjust it in front of the bathroom mirror and gives me a look.

“You don’t have to get glammed up for this, you know.”

“I know. Got to wear something. Figured I might as well look festive. ‘Tis the season and all that.”

My Glitzy Santa Cap, perfect for a bit of Christmas tree hunting, yes?

My Glitzy Santa Cap, perfect for a bit of Christmas tree hunting, yes?

Even with the cape, I am chilled. I grab a sweater. Of course, it is a Christmas cardigan, with festive appliques and embroidery. You can’t see it under the cape, but I know it’s there.  I tug on my black knit gloves with the soft chenille cuffs and I am ready to go.

We drive up and down the dirt road in our Jeep, windows rolled down to check out what’s available, heater blasting to take the edge of the morning chill.  We’re looking for a cedar.

“Too tall.”

“Right size–oh, really lop-sided.”

Benny points and grins. “How about that one?”

It’s a sprout. A little better than a Charlie Brown tree, but not much.

Pig Pen and Charlie with his homely little tree.

Pig Pen and Charlie with his homely little tree.

“I think we can do better than that.”

“This one’s nice.” We get out to inspect it. It’s full–very full. Not sure it will fit into the alloted space in the living room. And I honestly don’t want something as big as our artificial tree. FMS body is demanding I scale back.

Back into the Jeep, our eyes peeled for other candidates. Finally, we decide on one. It’s not perfect, but it will work, its size much more manageable for me. Benny cuts it down with an old hand saw. I hold the saw for him as he lifts the tree to place it on the rack atop the Jeep.

“This was Daddy’s, wasn’t it?” He nods in the affirmative as we tie it down with a bungee cord.

I remember hunting for Christmas trees back in my childhood and smile as I look at the saw with its slightly rusted handle.”Daddy never cut down the tree we chose. He knew better . . .  and there was always a huge bald spot. Never failed.”

Fast forward about 12 hours. Benny helps me sort through the lights and find working strands. I’d always gone for white lights in the early days of our marriage. But Benny recalled the colored lights of our childhoods so warmly and wistfully.  I’d bought colored lights a few years ago–and one strand of genuine Noma Bubble Lights just for him to enjoy.  Very retro.

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We have–lots of ornaments. I love Christmas and collecting Christmas items of all sorts. We’ve had a 7 1/2 foot artificial tree in the past, very full, with lots of branches.

Everything won’t fit on this smaller, wispier tree. And with its slightly assymetrical look, its homeliness and fewer, more delicate branches, it seems to me myfaceted beaded garlands, opalescent glass spheres, delicate angels and other breakable ornaments should stay put in their boxes. They are made for a showier tree.

This year it will be starched white crochet snowflakes, comical clothespin reindeer, cross-stitched ornaments made by yours truly, Olde Worlde cloth-covered styrofoam balls, handkerchief angels . . . a homey, homely, handmade sort of Christmas.

Well, except for one thing. We cannot find our angel tree topper. We try out one of our old-fashioned Santa figures but it’s just too heavy.

What to do?

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Just had to glam it up a little, you know. ‘Tis the season, y’all. And now my tired old body begs for a hot shower with some lavender vanilla body wash to help me relax. Hoping for sweet dReAms.

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Now I wouldn’t leave you without some Armitage beauty, either.  ‘Tis always the season for THAT.

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“The Help” and Mama and I: A Personal Perspective (Part 1)

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I mentioned in a previous post watching The Help, and the strong emotional response I had to the film.

First, let’s talk about the film itself, based on Kathryn Stockett‘s bestselling novel of the same name.

Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis as Abileen and Minny in The Help.

The Help is set in Mississippi in the early 1960s during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.  A young society girl, known to one and all as Skeeter (Emma Stone), has aspirations to become a novelist. Fresh out of college, she returns to her hometown and decides she wants to tell the life stories of the black servants—“the help”—who have for generations raised the children of well-to-do southern families.

Only one maid, Abileen, Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper, is willing to speak with her in the beginning.

 

There is unhappiness on both sides with Skeeter’s writing project—Abileen’s friends in the black community think she should stay silent and not rock the boat, and Skeeter’s friends from the fine old southern families think one of their own is meddling with the status quo.

 

Nevertheless, Abileen and Skeeter continue their collaboration, and other women begin to come forward to share their own experiences. Their stories are eventually compiled into a book, also called The Help, and published under a pseudonym—with all the names and locales changed, of course.

 

Still, everyone knows “who’s who” and some of the stories paint a very unflattering portrait of their employers, particularly Hilly, a manipulative and venomous creature portrayed brilliantly by Bryce Dallas-Howard.

Hilly (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and Skeeter (Emma Stone) face off.

Along the way we also see a friendship develop between Celia Foote, the “white trash” wife of Hilly’s former boyfriend, and Celia’s maid, Minny.  Both Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis as Minny and Abileen give true, honest performances that linger with you well after the film has ended.

 

It’s the sort of film that makes you laugh and weep and think.   I haven’t yet read the book, although I do have it on my Kindle; from what I can gather, the film adaptation from the source material is a pretty solid one. It’s well acted, well scripted and has excellent production values. Filmed in Greenwood, Miss., The Help looks and feels authentic.

 

For some, this film could be a valuable history lesson on the way things were in the segregated South of 50 years ago and the complicated relationship between black servants and their white employers; for others of us, it’s a reminder of life as we once knew it.

I was born in Alabama, right next door to Mississippi, in roughly the same time period in which this story is set.

I did not attend school with black children until the fifth grade when our schools were forced to integrate. I remember when black customers could not eat inside the air-conditioned dining room of the Dairy Queen.  How they were not even allowed to use the same pick-up window.   Public water fountains were “whites only.” Black patients sat in separate waiting rooms at the doctor’s office.

I knew families whose meals were cooked, houses cleaned and children cared for by black servants, who were not allowed to eat at the same table as their white employers.

Many of those servants were genuinely loved, and yet, expected to stay at arm’s length from white society.  Expected to know their place.  It’s a contradiction, but it was (and for some, still is) a reality.

Celestine Marsh was “the help” at our home on a part-time basis, usually once, sometimes twice in a week. She was barely five feet tall with a well-upholstered body and  a couple of gold teeth that flashed when she smiled.

I will always remember the delicious rice pudding she made from leftover rice and how good it tasted as an afterschool snack. I remember the time she took a hoe and killed the rattlesnake that was threatening my two older sisters.

I remember her prayers. You see, she was also an ordained minister, the pastor of the little concrete block church they built on land deeded to her family by my daddy. When Celestine got the Holy Spirit stirring, she vibrated all over as if she was being shocked with an electric current.

“Yes, Lord, Yes. Praise God, praise Jesus,” she’d exclaim in that slightly throaty voice, raising her plump hands in the air and closing her eyes.

I don’t mind telling you that as a little girl, I was a bit scared of Celestine in Jesus Mode.  As I grew older, I came to appreciate Celestine’s fervent prayers for me and my family. When Celestine was talking to the Lord on your behalf, you felt well and truly prayed for, as if she had a direct line to God.

When my older sister had to go into the hospital for some surgery, it was Celestine who weaned me. My mother informed me that when she came back home, I initially wanted nothing to do with Mama, having bonded with Celestine.

She was actually one of my mother’s first friends when Mama came from the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee to Alabama in 1946 to marry my daddy. My mother didn’t know any black people growing up. That’s because there were no black people in that part of Tennessee back in those days.

And on the big farm my grandfather had established, there were many farm hands working in his cotton gin and lumber mill and in the fields.  Mama experienced culture shock.   When my grandfather came down on the train to visit Mama in the early days of her marriage, he expressed trepidation over all those unfamiliar dark faces surrounding his favorite daughter.

Mama told him, “But Daddy. They’re just people, too. You treat them right and they will treat you right.”  Unlike Daddy, Mama didn’t grow up using the “n” word and she taught us not to use it either.

Still, as with so many other white families, Celestine was referred to by her first name, with no courtesy “Miz” in front of it.  You just didn’t use formalities with the help. It wasn’t done.  As the Bruce Hornsby song says, “That’s just the way it is . . .”

(end of part one)

Comic-Con is coming July 11-15 in San Diego!