Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Miz Bammie

Lately I’ve been thinking a great deal about my grandmother – known as Mommie to her grandchildren. (She was Florence Alabama Howell, called Bama by friends, and which eventually became “Bammie.”

Maybe I've been thinking about her because it’s summer, her favorite time of the year. And perhaps it's because we've experienced an unusually cool July, allowing open windows that bring inside breezes laden with the sights and sounds of the season.
A family portrait of the Howell family, circa early 1930s.
Her always open windows and the way it felt and smelled come over me. The fragrance of the Abelia bushes wafting inside. 

She resisted getting an air conditioning unit in her later years, saying it wasn’t “natural.” When it got too hot, she simply went and sat on the porch to rest and cool off with the aid of a paper fan with a picture of Jesus on one side and a funeral home advertisement on the back.

Memories of my grandmother are strong. We lived near her and during the summer days of my childhood I saw her most every day. I would walk or bicycle over to her house in the cool of the afternoon, where I’d find her sitting in the front yard reading the Florence Herald and “watching passing.”

This photo was made in the 1950s at a family reunion.

During those days, there wasn’t much vehicle traffic – usually just the “work hands” returning home from their day jobs. Funny now, when I think about how we recognized each vehicle and waved as they passed by. They waved back and sometimes honked their horns in recognition.

I don’t know as much about her early life as I’d like to. What I do know about her before my time I've learned by asking my mother
I wish I’d asked Mommie questions about herself back when I had the opportunity – to learn more of what her youth and early life was like. She was born in 1882, her father died tragically when she was a baby (read about it here), and her mother raised three sons and two daughters on her own. 

She attended school in a one-room schoolhouse (called Hammond School and still standing to this day; used as a hay storage shed by a farmer who owns the land) and she walked miles to get there each day.

She picked huckleberries each summer in an area known as The Ponds, a low-lying swampy area northwest of Anderson. Those berries were eaten fresh and canned for pies during the winter months.

Mommie in her apron and sunbonnet.
She married my grandfather, S.V. Howell, a blacksmith and who for a time previous to their marriage rented part of the farm to plant a crop. They built a home where she lived until her death; gave birth to nine and raised eight children (one died during infancy); and brought her widowed mother to live with the family.

Times were hard, family fortunes mostly dependent on how well the crops did each year. They struggled against the boll weevil that destroyed the cotton crops; droughts; the Great Depression. An extremely industrious woman, she inventively found ways to supplement the family income, or simply just make do. She earned extra money by sewing dresses for others; selling eggs; trading handmade quilts for goods needed; picking cotton.

During summer, there was always a bouquet of fresh flowers on the dining room table. It might be roses, roadside day lilies or Queen Anne’s Lace from the field. But there was always something fresh in a vase on the table.

She cooked on a wood stove well into the 1950s, resisting at first an electric model which she thought she might not adapt to. I shudder now as I think of all those meals she prepared and cooked on that wood stove. And how hot the fire in the stove must have felt in warm weather.

Mother told me that around 1941 or 1942, Mommie and her youngest daughter -- the only child still at home -- picked cotton to earn enough money to wire the house for electricity. Up until that time, they cooled milk in a fresh-water spring or lowered it into the water well.

A funny story they told when I was growing up was one day Mommie needed the vegetable garden tilled. All the men and animals were otherwise unavailable (working in the fields no doubt). Not to be outdone and ever inventive, Mommie hitched up my mother and her younger sister to the garden plow and that's how the garden was tilled!

Most of the food for the table was grown in the summer vegetable garden, eaten fresh during the growing season and canned for the winter. She preserved beans, corn, apples and the like. Hogs were butchered in the fall and chickens were raised for eggs and meat. 

I recall seeing my grandmother kill a chicken once, something I never cared to see repeated. My mother recalled that, when there was company in the house, Mommie would catch and kill a chicken, clean and cut it up, fry it and have it on the table with hot biscuits by the time everyone gathered around the breakfast table.

Apples were peeled and dried in the sun for future pies. One of my older cousins told me years ago that one of her abiding memories of Grandma Caroline (Mommie’s mother) was her sitting on the porch peeling a pan full of apples for drying.

Few things were actually bought at the store. Just coffee, tea, flour and a few other staples. 

Mommie always wore an apron, except on Sunday. A clean one was as much a part of her daily wardrobe as was a clean dress. Apron pockets were handy, after all, for gathering eggs, picking apples and any number of other farm chores.

But while she looked like a typical farm lady six days, come Sunday it was a different matter altogether. She had beautiful “Sunday clothes,” always black, and she dressed for church with care. She was famous for her broad-brimmed black hats and wore them with aplomb. She snapped on her beads, powdered her face, shook on a few drops of White Shoulders and was ready to go.
She never learned to drive, so a family member or church member drove her to Sunday church services.

She ALWAYS cooked a large Sunday lunch, regardless of whether she expected guests or not. She assumed someone would show up to eat, and she was most always right – whether someone from church offered an impromptu invitation or family members stopping by.

My favorite dishes she prepared were chicken and dressing, peach cobbler pie, fried country ham and hot biscuits. Those were the best biscuits ever. I have no idea how she manipulated the flour and shortening to achieve that taste, but I’ve never experienced anything similar to them.

She valued her independence and was determined to successfully live alone during her widowhood (her husband died in 1940; she lived on until 1973). 

While my mother was mostly her transportation to shopping in Florence, she often took the bus to town on her own. Ever independent and determined not to tell family members of her every coming and going, we would sometimes go by and find a note on the dresser that read, “Gone to town on dinner bus.” (That would be Joiner's Bus Line.) Back in those days, nobody locked their doors.

She loved babies, flowers, big hats, baby chicks. Her favorite television program was Bonanza and she relished those solo trips to town where she loved to eat lunch at the Walgreen's lunch counter and shop in the "five and ten cent stores."

I remember she used to order baby chicks through the mail (from one of the mail order catalogs: Sears or Montgomery Ward, perhaps). The boxes got special handling by the postal service and I recall the mailman bringing the box to her door and how she unpacked them with giddy anticipation. Can still remember how those boxes smelled!

We grandchildren loved spending time there in summer, where we built playhouses and allowed our imaginations to run wild. We picked apples, peaches and grapes from her orchard. We played hopscotch, Red Rover and tag, drank the Kool Aid and lemonade she made for us and sat with her on the porch when she was snapping beans or peeling peaches.

She had this wonderful laugh that caused her entire upper body to shake. It was an infectious expression of glee that affected all who were around her. 

She could be gruff when we misbehaved, especially when several of us were visiting and the inevitable arguments broke out among us. But she was patient with our misbehavior, such as when cousin Tommy killed her rooster with a slingshot, us eating all her grapes or tromping down her flowers.

Mommie's grandchildren, the older ones with their spouses. That's me holding the "Toni" doll.
I could go on a long time about my grandmother, but just one final story before I end. And that was Christmas at her house. Everyone went on Christmas Day: Eight children and spouses; 24 grandchildren, the older ones married and with spouses; and in later years, great grandchildren too numerous to count. And then there was always an assortment of neighbors or friends who didn’t have anyplace else to go and knew they were welcome at “Miz Bammie’s.”

How her small house held all those people is a mystery still. Every room full; women bustling around in the kitchen; children darting everywhere. Dolls Santa Claus had brought lined the bed in the front room; young boys dressed in Roy Rogers cowboy outfits shooting off cap guns; older boys supervised by the men exploding firecrackers in the yard.

Around the table! A typical scene at Mommie's at Christmas or any other Sunday when the family gathered at her home for a large meal. At left is Diane holding baby Terry Hale, Uncle Elvis with bread slices, Uncle Dewey helping his plate and Daddy's back.
The table groaned from the weight of the food, everyone bringing covered dishes to supplement what my grandmother prepared. The men got to help their plates first, then the children and finally the women (such an unjust system!) You hoped a pulley-bone or breast was left on the fried chicken platter by the time it was your turn, but you were lucky if you got a wing! And always the dish of spiced, or pickled peaches in the footed compote bowl, a bowl of red jello, which we children called “nervous pudding.”

We usually helped Mommie decorate her Christmas tree – a cedar cut from the woods -- a couple of weeks prior to Christmas. Bright bubbling light sets, tinsel rope and silver icicles; wreaths fashioned from cellophane were hung in the windows; a roaring fire glowed in the pot-bellied stove where we popped corn and parched peanuts.

She started shopping for the gifts in late summer. A pretty dish for the daughters and daughters-in-law; a handkerchief or socks for sons and sons-in-law; handkerchiefs for the girl grandchildren and socks for the boys. Small tokens, but an important ritual for her and special to us because she remembered.

She’s been gone for many years, but we remember her affectionately for what she taught us by the way she lived her life. She was loved and respected by many people. Not the least of which is me.

Feel free to share your thoughts -- about days gone by, your memories of grandmothers or any older person you admired.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Psychology of Color

Do colors affect your mood?

The experts say they do.

Color is everywhere, but does it mean anything?

Different colors often have different meanings in various cultures. And even in Western societies, the meanings of various colors have changed over the years. But today in the U.S., researchers have generally found the following to be accurate.

The color of authority and power. It is popular in fashion because it makes people appear thinner. It is also stylish and timeless. Black also implies submission. Priests wear black to signify submission to God. Some fashion experts say a woman wearing black implies submission to men. Black outfits can also be overpowering, or make the wearer seem aloof or evil. Villains, such as Dracula, often wear black.

Brides wear white to symbolize innocence and purity. White reflects light and is considered a summer color. White is popular in decorating and in fashion because it is light, neutral, and goes with everything. However, white shows dirt and is therefore more difficult to keep clean than other colors. Doctors and nurses wear white (NOT SO MUCH ANYMORE) to imply sterility.

The most emotionally intense color, red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing. It is also the color of love. Red clothing gets noticed and makes the wearer appear heavier. Since it is an extreme color, red clothing might not help people in negotiations or confrontations. Red cars are popular targets for thieves. In decorating, red is usually used as an accent. Decorators say that red furniture should be perfect since it will attract attention.

The most romantic color, pink, is more tranquilizing. Sports teams sometimes paint the locker rooms used by opposing teams bright pink so their opponents will lose energy.

The color of the sky and the ocean, blue is one of the most popular colors. It causes the opposite reaction as red. Peaceful, tranquil blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals, so it is often used in bedrooms. Blue can also be cold and depressing. Fashion consultants recommend wearing blue to job interviews because it symbolizes loyalty. People are more productive in blue rooms. Studies show weightlifters are able to handle heavier weights in blue gyms.

Currently the most popular decorating color, green symbolizes nature. It is the easiest color on the eye and can improve vision. It is a calming, refreshing color. People waiting to appear on TV sit in "green rooms" to relax. Hospitals often use green because it relaxes patients. Brides in the Middle Ages wore green to symbolize fertility. Dark green is masculine, conservative, and implies wealth. However, seamstresses often refuse to use green thread on the eve of a fashion show for fear it will bring bad luck.

Cheerful sunny yellow is an attention getter. While it is considered an optimistic color, people lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms, and babies will cry more. It is the most difficult color for the eye to take in, so it can be overpowering if overused. Yellow enhances concentration, hence its use for legal pads. It also speeds metabolism.

The color of royalty, purple connotes luxury, wealth, and sophistication. It is also feminine and romantic. However, because it is rare in nature, purple can appear artificial.

Solid, reliable brown is the color of earth and is abundant in nature. Light brown implies genuineness while dark brown is similar to wood or leather. Brown can also be sad and wistful. Men are more apt to say brown is one of their favorite colors. 

Food for Thought

While blue is one of the most popular colors it is one of the least appetizing. Blue food is rare in nature. Food researchers say that when humans searched for food, they learned to avoid toxic or spoiled objects, which were often blue, black, or purple. When food dyed blue is served to study subjects, they lose appetite.

Green, brown, and red are the most popular food colors. Red is often used in restaurant decorating schemes because it is an appetite stimulant.

Can you identify with any of this research? Does color affect your mood? For me, I think it does, even in subtle ways.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Joy of Summer: An Open Window

It's most unusual to have a cool day in July, but that's exactly what happened yesterday. A temperature of 74 degrees F. was such a welcome relief after days of temps in the mid-90s.

It was a great time to throw open the windows and bring the the smells and sounds of summer inside.

How wonderful it was last night to be lulled into sleep to the soothing song of the cicadas and crickets.

And to be awakened in the morning by the birds.

By midday I must close up the windows, as the temperature is predicted to be back in the 90s today. 

But this morning, I'm still bringing the outdoors in and enjoying each moment. 

What are you doing this fine day?

Friday, July 19, 2013

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

The Seneca Falls Convention the first convention for women's rights — began on this date in 1848. It was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friend Lucretia Mott. They had been getting together frequently to talk about the abuses they suffered as women, and they finally decided to have a public meeting to discuss the status of women in society.

Just a few days before the meeting, Stanton took the Declaration of Independence as her model and drafted what she titled a Declaration of Sentiments, calling for religious, economical, and political equality and which said, "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman." Elizabeth Cady Stanton read the declaration and then made a radical suggestion, that the document should also demand a woman's right to vote. 

At that time, no women were allowed to vote anywhere on the planet. And many of the other women there objected to the idea. They thought it was impossible.

Reaction to the convention in the press and the pulpit was mostly negative.

The Oneida Whig wrote: "This bolt is the most shocking and unnatural incident ever recorded in the history of womanhood. If our ladies will insist on voting and legislating, where, gentlemen, will be our dinners and our elbows? Where our domestic firesides and the holes in our stockings?"

Philadelphia's Public Ledger and Daily Transcript declared: "A woman is nobody. A wife is everything. The ladies of Philadelphia [...] are resolved to maintain their rights as Wives, Belles, Virgins and Mothers."

Seventy-two years later, women would be granted the right to vote. Only one of the signers of the original Declaration of Sentiments was still living at the time. 

It took 72 years. Let this be our inspiration to NEVER GIVE UP, REGARDLESS OF WHAT OUR GOALS MAY BE!

Text above via The Writer's Almanac, 7/19/2013; photos via Google.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

No-See-Ums But You Sure Can Feel 'Um

There are all kinds of insects out there trying their best to ruin my summer.

One of them is the No-See-Um. Yep, that’s the correct name. You don't see 'um but you sure can feel 'um!

The name is said to come from words spoken by American Indians (“you don’t see them”), the first known use being in 1842.

A product called Noooo No-see-um is said to repel No-See-Ums. I had no idea such a thing was available but I'll certainly be checking this one out! Advertised as DEET free, no harmful chemicals, non-toxic and safe on pets and horses.
For years, when I heard others refer to a flying insect that bites and causes pain by that name, I thought it was a joke, or a myth.

But during the past several years, I am quite bothered by irritating bites while outdoors. I knew it couldn’t be mosquitos because you can see and hear them buzzing around in your space.

 Although I don’t know what a No-See-Um looks like, if one bites you you'll know it. Intense itching occurs and a small red spot soon appears on the skin. The itching goes on for quite a while.

I've noticed that the moment we go outside, the dogs begin toscratch. My dogs are protected from fleas with a monthly treatment, I've seen no evidence of fleas on them, so I'm assuming they are being bitten by the No-See-Ums.

The insect is a bloodsucker many times smaller than a mosquito, but its bite is inversely more painful. The sting causes a large welt that can irritate the skin for several days, causing severe itching. It is tiny enough to pass through window screens, making it a nuisance to people and pets. They are usually about 1 mm (0.04 inch) long.
A No-See-Um helmet offered by Dick's Sporting Goods

The No-See-Um is also known as a biting midge, sand flea, sand fly, punkie or punky. Many species are found in Alaska, Florida, the southern US states, and the California coast, though they can be found anywhere conditions are ideal.
The best protection from the bites is to empty standing water from yard decorations (their breeding grounds) and use an insect repellent containing DEET.

I don’t like DEET products, and have tried other “homemade remedies” to protect myself against insect bites but have met with limited success with this endeavor, however.

Are you familiar with the No-See-Um insect?

What type product, if any, do you use to protect yourself from insect bites (if you are bothered by them)? Some people are more affected than others, it seems, and they do seem to love me!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Life Before Air Conditioning

Air conditioning hasn't just cooled our rooms. It’s changed the way we live.


Before homes were cooled by air conditioning  – in that bygone and less comfortable era – coping with the heat of summer influenced the way we lived.

Families gathered on the front porch to cool off, relax, visit, read the newspaper, share the day’s activities, gossip about neighborhood goings on and generally wind down.

Neighbors would more easily stop in to visit if they saw you sitting on the front porch.  

Here in the Southern U.S., houses were designed with airflow in mind, thus higher ceilings and more windows. The dogtrot house design was common.

Wikipedia describes the dogtrot design as consisting of “two log cabins connected by a breezeway or "dogtrot", all under a common roof. Typically one cabin was used for cooking and dining while the other was used as a private living space, such as a bedroom. 

The primary characteristics of a dogtrot house is that it is typically one or 1 1⁄2-stories, has at least two rooms averaging between 18 to 20 feet (5.5 to 6.1 m) wide that each flank an open-ended central hall. Additional rooms usually take the form of a semidetached ell or shed rooms, flanking the hall to the front or rear.
The breezeway through the center of the house is a unique feature, with rooms of the house opening into the breezeway. The breezeway provided a cooler covered area for sitting. The combination of the breezeway and open windows in the rooms of the house created air currents which pulled cooler outside air into the living quarters efficiently in the pre-air conditioning era. Most dogtrots had full-width porches to the front and/or rear, which could be used as sleeping porches with beds – a great place to spend a summer night.

The breezeway also was the place where the lady of the house sat to string beans, peel apples and perform all manner of chores that could be performed while sitting.

Credit: JediCreations.com



Other coping devices for surviving the hot days and nights were attic and window fans, naps during the heat of the day, carrying hand-held fans around, wide-brimmed hats, drinking lots of cool well water, and of course, the old swimming hole.

It also should be noted that food for the mid-day and evening meal was cooked early in the day -- right after breakfast. The purpose of this was to allow the heat from the stove to get out of the house before nightfall and allow a cooler house for sleeping. The food prepared prepared early in the day was consumed for both "dinner" at mid-day and "supper" in the evening.

Before air conditioning was common, retail outlets posted signs in windows, inviting patrons to “Come inside; it’s air conditioned!” Movie theaters were popular gathering places, as they were typically air conditioned.
It has been pointed out that air conditioning was responsible for transforming the economies of the U.S. South and Southwest, making formerly inhospitable regions a great place to live and do business. 


I enjoy my air conditioning as much as anyone. But I surely miss those summer evenings of front porch, when people gathered to tell family stories and to make simple comments like, “the Four O’Clocks sure do smell good tonight, don’t they?” 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thursday Tea: Charming Teapots

I go nearly two weeks without posting a blog, and in one day I decide to do two! Go figure.

As I was about to brew my mid-morning cup of tea, I reached on the shelf and brought down this number. It's the oldest pot I own (from mother's collection), and the best I remember, was one of those freebies received in years past from the manufacturer when you bought their products -- in this case, McCormick tea.

I love the shape of the pot, and how unusual that it has its own tea leaves holder. Obviously, this was before tea bags were in common use.

Here's the bottom of the pot. Made in the U.S.A. This was when things were still made "locally" instead of in first Japan, then Taiwan and now, China.

Do you remember the days when complimentary items were given with purchases? Other examples I recall are a juice glass in a box of oatmeal; a glass or bowl in a box of laundry detergent; glassware with a gasoline purchase. And the most dreaded of all: flour packaged inside cotton print fabric, which mothers would sew into little play dresses and shorts for children. I recall wearing a few of those during the summer.

But back to teapots, because this is Thursday -- the day I want to devote to discussions about tea and tea accessories. 

What is your favorite type of pot in which to brew your tea? Teapot tastes are varied; there are many eclectic pots out there and I see many of them on Pinterest. Here's a sampling of teapot tastes:

All these modern designs make my McCormick pot look like an old-fashioned relic of the past (which it is). But I like it more than any of the designs shown above.

Do you have a favorite among these shown? If I had to pick one, it would probably be the yellow bee skep

Front Porch Pleasures

Summertime by Mary Cassatt

An aria by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.
And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Oh, Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

In the full swing of summer we are. But I wouldn't say the livin' is easy. Never is. For me, summer brings outdoor chores that aren't present during cold weather (self-inflicted wounds, I call them!)

However, life does change somewhat during the heat of summer. We slow our steps and take in the sights and sounds of the season, enjoy the scenery, reflect more. Time out of doors is limited to early morning and late afternoon -- at least for me.

That leaves the middle of the day. And what better way to spend it than reading inside the air-conditioned house or in the shade of the front porch?

Since I last posted, I have been on a book binge. After completing The Moonflower Vine, which I posted about here, I also read the author's only other book,  Clair de Lune, on my Kindlefire.

Next I moved on to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, a novel by Helen Simonson, a thoroughly charming read with its crisp wit and gentle insight.

The two books to the right in the photo below are in my soon-to-read stack.

Currently, I'm reading Lowcountry Summer, a hilarious novel full of the sights, smells, attitudes and tastes of the South Carolina lowcountry.

It, and the book below, were purchased at the Dollar General Store for $1 each. At a price like that, who could say no?

Reading on the front porch is enhanced by having this old glider and (two) chairs borrowed from my mother's front porch. They are old, once green but painted black some decades ago. I happen to like the mottled look, however.

The glider is the perfect spot for kitty naps. The pillows are temporary for kitty comfort. I'm trying to decide if I want to choose a fabric and sew pillows or take the easy way out and purchase them.

This old baker's rack provides some respite from the hot sun for my shade loving potted plants.

Here's one of the pots I crafted a few weeks ago. Once I get the process perfected, I will do a post on how to transform plain clay pots to French flea market looking finds.

I have to admit this fern stand is reminiscent of weddings and funerals, but I couldn't resist buying it because I love wicker.  I am looking for a white wicker seating arrangement for the porch but have been unable to find the right one. I could really kick myself in the pants for not buying the one I found a few weeks ago and didn't purchase on the spot.

Another recent flea market find. A place to rest a tall frosty drink on a summer afternoon. I am not wild about the flower pictures painted on the tray and at the bottom and may very well paint over them.

Wicker again. Great for taking to the garden for flower cutting.

Well, that about sums up what I've been doing instead of blogging. I am way behind on reading your posts but hope to catch up soon. Today is the first time I've sat at the computer in almost two weeks. Where does the time go?
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