Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Women

The hippie apple cake is out of the oven and bread dough is rising (I have no idea why I'm making bread it seemed necessary) and the water for iced tea is on the stove and I've made the bean salad.
It is a bean salad which is reminiscent of the three-bean salad I remember from my childhood. That salad's beans were canned green beans, canned wax beans, and canned kidney beans. There were also green peppers and onions in it and the dressing was a very, very sweet vinaigrette with so much sugar in it that you could have marinated grass in it and it would have been delicious.
My salad is not quite like that. I still use canned beans but there are black beans, garbanzos, kidney, edamame, green beans, two colors of pepper and red onions. And my vinaigrette has no sugar whatsoever but the balsamic and rice wine vinegars give it some sweetness.

I think back to my childhood when every recipe had cups of white sugar and sticks of butter and cream cheese and mayonnaise and cream and that included the salads. Or what passed for salads in those days. And I don't recall that many fat people, either. Except for me. I was the fat child. The one my grandmother's friends would give gifts of jump ropes to encourage exercise. The one they would say of, "She has such a pretty face."
Ah. Cliche. Hurtful and sharp, still to this day. But, they were the same ladies who gave me copies of books to read- Treasure Island, for one, the same ladies who told me I was smart and I believed them. Some of them had blue hair and cat glasses. Some of them wore silver bangles and rhinestone pins and simple strings of pearls. Many of them kept their little cardigans attached like a cape with a chain and clip device which was also bejeweled. Their accessories fascinated me, and when they all started wearing hair nets with tiny beads on them, I thought that they were beautiful and I asked my grandmother to get one, too. Most of them had long hair which they wore up in complicated buns and braids but some of them, like my grandmother, simply went and got their hair trimmed and permed and set and dyed blue.
And they all wore hair nets, night and day I think, in order to protect their hairdos.

Well. I am just thinking, for some reason, about those ladies. Maybe the bean salad, or maybe it's just that I am approaching the age they were then when I thought they were so very, very old. Ancient. And yet, I thought they were beautiful too. And some of them, without a doubt, were.

They have made sharp comments at times, but they meant them kindly, and even then I knew that. And when I look back on those days in Roseland, which is where we lived when I knew these women, I realize that it was mostly they who cushioned my existence. If there was any human comfort, a great deal of it came from them.
I remember their names.
Helen and Irene and Katie and Betty and Rosa and Garnet and Ruth. There were others, I am sure, but these are the ones I remember.

There were other women who made my life better, younger women. Aunt Dottie who ran a daycare and made clothes for my Barbie doll and took me camping and taught me to swim and Martha Hendry, my most beloved school teacher. Aunt Flonny, who drove the school bus and let me work in the cafeteria with her during the worst year of my life. I believe they saw something very needy in me and because they had great souls, they offered me what they could and if I am a person of any worth, they and the older women are the reasons.

So. There. Just that.

Make bean salad and a childhood appears, the river, the jungle, the birds, the other children, the snakes, the armadillos and my grandfather and his tuneless whistling as he worked his compost. The school with its oiled wood floors and two staircases, the kitchen of the cafeteria where Aunt Flonny made huge batches of yeast rolls and I scraped plates into the trash and dried and stacked those green plastic, partitioned lunch plates, turned chairs up onto tables and swept the floors.

Mostly though, today I am thinking of the women and silky dresses, their hair nets, their soft voices and wrinkled skin, their face powder, their eyes, magnified beyond all reason behind the lenses of their cat glasses.

I am remembering them. I am realizing, as I cut and chop and mix and bake the great debt I owe them.

These words aren't much, but today, they are what I have to offer to that debt.

I thank them, even as they are long, long gone. They are not gone to me, though but in some ways are as living and alive as anyone I know because as cliched as THIS is, they live on in me. The best parts of me. They gave freely and I somehow knew enough to take.

And I am so eternally grateful.


  1. Having a frantic cooking and baking day myself. Gnocchi and cheesy biscuits and making pico and I think it's because I'm afraid I'm going to starve to death.

    I'm here now it's wide open to the world:

    Thank you for adding me to your blogroll Mary darling. My word verification looks like ground arachnid!

  2. Those images...I can picture it. God, you are such a great storyteller. I want that bean salad!

    I've been cleaning. All day. My abode smells lovely.

  3. This is so, so beautiful, Mary. You honor these women who helped you through your childhood, and if you really do have a debt, I think this is a fine way of repaying it.

    One of my grandmothers had short hair with a net and the other one had beautiful long hair down to her waist, but if you didn't spend the night with her you would never know it. Each morning she made one long braid down her back and then wound it all on top of her head. One of my best memories is those nights I would stay with her and she would let me watch her take down her hair, unbraid and brush it. Thinking of this makes my heart swell and I thank you for reminding me!

  4. what a lovely tribute to the Women...
    To all of us gray haired ladies, wrinkly skinned, blind and almost feeble ladies.

  5. Well, you have reminded me of the taste of my mother's bean salad, and offered so much more, too.

  6. I think we all owe it to the little ones or the lost ones out there to be those ladies with the blue hair. If we keep that chain going... keep saving and helping and guiding... then we will be ok. And so will those we support.

  7. That was such a lovely tribute to the ladies in your life. Thank you for that.

  8. I remember that bean salad and I'm not from the South. You're sounds sooooo much better.

    XXX B

  9. Oh, Mrs. Moon, I love the way your bean salad sent you into the past in a good way! Your descriptions of your relatives and how they influenced you was meaningful, and your gratitude to them was touching. On a lighter note, I copied down the ingredients for your salad and plan to fix it as it sounds so good.


  10. I remember the elderly gents and ladies who were my grandparents' friends. The men wore ties and the ladies wore dresses. Hair was combed and permed on the ladies. Nice memories of times when people had class and good manners.

  11. I love this post, and I love yobobe's comment. I'm not wrinkly yet, but it's only because my plumpness pushes my skin smooth.

    And I think I'd actually eat your bean salad.

  12. My teachers saved me and I too have much gratitude towards them. Until the last 5 years I really did not have elderly role models that I admired. Now I have a lot. It's something how people touch us throughout our lives, huh? Sweet Jo

  13. At the county fair, as a 4-H-er, I once gave a cooking demonstration on how to make a 3-bean salad. I wore my green 4-H uniform and a hairnet.
    I prefer bean soup. But I'll bet I'd LOVE your bean salad.

  14. You are such a wonderful storyteller. I knew women like that back in my part of Florida, too. In fact, the woman who took care of me as a kid while my Mom worked was from Madison, and she was about as Southern as could be. She did the whole pantsuit/Final Net/cat eye glasses thing. In fact, maybe I should write about her.

    As for bean salad, have you ever had the Reade bean salad? It's in a can, but it's not bad. I used to buy it all the time. Kash N' Karry used to carry it, and maybe Publix does too. (Assuming it's still around, which it may not be, as this was years ago.)

  15. I love your women ms moon and am glad they were there for you...I must reach back and ponder on who my "aunties" may have been as I know I had some but more spread out as my family was busted out all over the place and didn't really give me the women one needs from vermont..

  16. Madame King- I am so glad to be able to share you with the world again. Sometimes I want to send people to your blog to catch something you've said and how you've said it and now I can, again. Thank you.

    Nicol- My abode is as dusty and mildewy as it always is but I am happy with it, just the same. Still- how nice it would be if it were truly clean. Sigh...

    lulumarie- Oh! How I long for a granddaughter who would brush my hair out! Wouldn't that be heaven? Thank you for that image. Owen will brush my hair but quick, quick, and then he hands me the brush back and I am grateful for even that.

    Yobobe- Yes. We are them now, aren't we?
    That is odd and yet, somehow, okay too. Especially since I remember how beautiful those women were.

    Jo- Bean salad is a treat! And it can be very healthful and beautiful with all its colors.

    Jill- Oh, how I agree. But I don't want blue hair. Is that okay?

    Syd- Oh yes. The men were so darling in their bow ties, their button-down shirts, even in the Florida summer. When did it become okay for people to wear their pajamas in public?

    Allison- I could write a BOOK about those ladies. Funny how well I remember them, how fondly.

    Beth Coyote- I am not sure that salad was a southern thing. Kati and I were talking about the original recipe- a cup of Wesson oil (always Wesson oil), a cup of sugar, etc. It was delicious.
    It was dessert with fiber!

    Georgie- Are you the Georgie I know in real life? Whoever you are, welcome here and I hope you enjoy the salad.

    Elizabeth- I bet you would like it, too, that salad. I am plump and yet still have wrinkles. How can this be?

    Sweet Jo- It truly is. And we are grateful for them whenever they come into our lives.

    Denise- That's great! Did your hair net have tiny colored beads on it? I love bean soup, too. But summer is a good time for the salad.

    Steve Reed- Madison is RIGHT down the road from here. You and I have a lot of shared geography, don't we?
    Do you mean THIS bean salad?

    Big Mamabird- And love from Lloyd to Vermont.

  17. Mary and Steve, I went to junior college in Madison in 1970. I had a VW beetle and gas was 25 cents a gallon. Four of us would pile in the car and we'd contribute a quarter each and drive to Tallahassee to the head shop. Those were the days!


Tell me, sweeties. Tell me what you think.