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Category: General

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 11

This is CHAPTER 11 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Last we left off: Lucinda had just had sex with Augie Green, the stranger she met on the train. It went well, physically, but the experience left her wanting the emotional serenity she sees in Augie. As our current chapter opens, Augie is telling Lucinda a story from his childhood, and Lucinda is trying to sort through the underlying message he’s sending her. 

I could talk about how difficult we make life by encoding our conversations with hidden points, particularly between men and women, but I’m gonna give you a hint instead: this chapter has chicken names in it. Pay attention. They become important later on. 

This chapter gives you the low-down on barbecue contests, important information, particularly if you’re from the Pacific Northwest where they NEVER have barbecue contests. Which, by the way, in Memphis is called “BBQ” or simply “the Q” for short, even though the word “barbecue” has no Q in it. I didn’t know this until I moved to Memphis. I thought it must be spelled with a Q, or why not call it BBC? Life. I’ve included in the footnotes the link for an application to enter the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest, if you’re interested.

Speaking of moving to Memphis, in this chapter we encounter firsthand what we’d been forewarned about: Erick’s mom doesn’t like Mississippi OR people from Mississippi. This is not that unusual. When I used to live in Mississippi and I’d travel, people would ask where I was from, when I answered Mississippi, they’d give me the stink eye. Or the cold shoulder. Or the open-mouthed, “Oh, really?” Then I moved to Memphis, and I answered the ‘where are you from question’ with ‘Memphis,’ and people loved me. They’d start gushing. I LOVE Memphis. I LOVE Elvis. Memphis is my FAVORITE CITY. I am undyingly grateful to Memphis for making it easier for me to travel. 

Okay. That’s enough preliminary information.

Fun Chicken Fact: Breeding chickens for single selection factors has really messed up roosters. I’m not gonna say any more than that because it’s really, really sad what breeding has done to them. Just know that if you’re raising chickens and your rooster acts TERRIBLE, it is not normal. Blame it on genetic manipulation, and keep him away from your hens. You can research the rest of it yourself. 

Now go read Chapter 11 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES SECTION to Chapter 11

MIM BBQ contest: http://www.memphisinmay.org/events/world-championship-barbecue-cooking-contest/team/

What is a State After All?

Y’all! I realize I don’t get out much, but I’ve just discovered that Michigan—a state—is made up of two noncontiguous land masses. The Upper Peninsula, or “The UP” as they call it, isn’t even attached to the rest of the state. It’s the top of Wisconsin. But it’s, you know, part of the state of Michigan. How did that happen, you ask? Well, hold onto your hats because I’ve discovered the mythic War Between the States.

It wasn’t fought in the South.

It was fought between Michigan and Ohio. They both wanted Toledo (right, times change.) That led to a war. Michigan against Ohio (no wonder the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry is so fierce). Actually, it wasn’t much of a war—some guy got killed in a bar fight. But to settle the “Toledo War,” Michigan swiped the UP from Wisconsin. Poor ‘ol Wisconsin was only a territory and couldn’t defend itself. My husband says, “Everyone takes advantage of the cheeseheads.”

So now the UP is sitting up there on top of Wisconsin separated from the rest of Michigan like Hawaii floating off to the side of the United States. A woman in downtown Mackinac Island (which is where I am, which is how I learned of this geographic anomaly—I mean, everyone knows what a state looks like. It’s a blob. Various shaped blobs, but still a blob. Apparently not. In the case of Michigan, it’s a blob plus another state’s wind-blown toupee), she said the UP periodically threatens to secede from Michigan and become its own state.

Well, no s**t. I mean, what if Arkansas up and claimed Mud Island for its own self (“So, Memphis, I see you’re not using that land mass; why don’t we just say it’s part of The Natural State?”) and Tennessee let them do it. If that happened, Mud Island would probably say, to hell with both of y’all—we’re now the grand state of Mud Island.

The UP folks (“Yoopers,” they call them, which I don’t think is a slur, but “Trolls,” which is what the Yoopers call the rest of Michigan—because they live under the Mackinac Bridge—sure sounds like one) would be the State of Superior. Which seems to me like a pretty awesome name for a state.

Secession would serve Michigan right. They’re all over that “we look like a mitten, aren’t we so cute?” business. But what about the UP? Could be a dog sniffing a mitten, I guess. Don’t tell my husband this—it will, without a doubt, lead to him telling you about a drunken disaster of a fraternity float: “Watch the Snowman Catch the Dog.”

I knew this trip had its perils (When I first met my husband, he told me two things: (1) don’t be bringing those beef ribs into this house, and (2) don’t be telling this STAX boy nothing about that pretender Motown.) But it was worth it to venture to the island my grandmother summered in to escape the heat of the Mississippi Delta and revivaled in when Moral Rearmament experienced its heyday.

Little did I know it would shake my faith in what is—or isn’t—a state.

Visual evidence of how weird they do states up north

One Liners

We, the most Southern couple on earth, are going to Michigan! Mackinac Island, to be specific, which my grandmother Bigmama talked about all the durn time when I was a kid. I’ll share photos.

We’re having a book launch at Novel Bookstore in Memphis this July for The Hart Women! The Hart Women is a different concept (a limited edition hand-sewn novel). I’m grateful to Novel for viewing “different” as exciting.

My mother is about to have a very significant birthday! Y’all have to join me in my joy without knowing Mother’s exact age—I know better than to blurt that out.

Two very fine agents are reading HARBORING EVIL! (A formerly homeless man uses his street smarts to prove the kind woman who helped him get housed didn’t murder her husband—only to discover she might be involved in a deadly gentrification scheme.) Fingers crossed, y’all.

I planted a mimosa tree! Most nurseries don’t carry mimosas because they consider them “trash trees.” Never smelled the honey scent or seen a mimosa blossom twirling in the sun like a tiny ballerina, I guess.

An incredibly talented artist and I led the world-premier of the Stations of the Resurrection at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Sunday! It was fabulous. It was Dean Laura’s idea. The artist and I made it real, totally from scratch, my kind of endeavor.

And this one is without an exclamation point: I sometimes feel like a small craft on a large, unfathomable ocean. The swells lift me high where I feel myself soaring toward the horizon with the white-winged gulls. Then my little raft rides the face of the wave into a trough that frightens me in its bleakness. I share here with you the buoying peaks. Please know that if you are in a trough, your raft will rise again.

Don’t let the world get you down: read
Or
Books without the K is only Boo

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 10

This is CHAPTER 10 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

OK. Last we left off: Lucinda had completed a romantic interlude with Augie, including dancing in the moonlight to the song “Moon River.” Very romantic but with hints that hearts might be broken in the future.

There’s a running joke in the novel that’s included in this chapter about the Polish Women’s Association. It might be considered offensive, because it’s a joke based on country of origin. The only thing I can say in my defense is that a Polish woman suggested I use it. Please don’t laugh if you don’t find it funny.

Speaking of which, my aunt has a squirrel coat. In this chapter, I give the coat to Lucinda’s mom. In real life, my aunt wore her coat during our Groundhog Day’s parade, which we held on the Pearl River levee in the morning fog of Groundhog Day’s right before the sun came up, because the point is where the shadow’s gonna fall, right? My aunt—who would probably be mortified if she read this book—was born on Groundhog’s Day, so, even though she was over 75 years old, she joined in the parade, marching down the levee in February at the crack of dawn wearing her squirrel coat and carrying a beachball, for the summer/winter thing. I come from a great family.  

Also in this chapter is a reference to Big Blue. That’s Lucinda’s mom’s blue Cadillac. I stole that too, from my Bigmama’s big blue Cadillac that we call Big Blue. (I didn’t even change the name to protect the innocent.) We cousins loved Big Blue so much, we asked Miriam Weems the famous Jackson, Mississippi artist to paint a portrait of three of us and Big Blue. You can read the link at the footnotes to tell you more about Miriam. It’s a little morbid because it’s her obituary, but it’s a great write up about her and her work.

In this chapter we also have a scene about killing mice in the club car. Normally, I do NOT advocate violence, and I don’t even have anything against mice (ask my husband who was forced to shoo a teeninsey white mouse into a paper bag with the broom so I could set it free in the yard.) But I needed an “interlude,” and the surreal scene in the club car seemed appropriate. 

Which brings us to the hardest thing of all: this chapter has a sex scene. (Of course, nothing at all that I’ve been talking about brings us to sex, but I’ve got to address this one way or another so we’re pretending it just naturally flows.) Y’all will feel me blushing as you read this scene.

So this chapter has offensive jokes about the Polish Women’s Association, a squirrel coat, a big blue Cadillac, mousicide, and sex. Bet you’re raring to go, right?

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information.

Helpful Train Hint: Be prepared to meet foreign tourists riding the train. They’ll ask you questions. If at all humanely possible, be kind and helpful. You are the train ambassador for all us Americans. 

Now go read Chapter 10 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES SECTION

Web site on Miriam: http://obits.dignitymemorial.com/dignity-memorial/obituary.aspx?n=Miriam-Weems&lc=7249&pid=153245529&mid=4785287

Today, In Memphis

Today, in Memphis, we met a fun new couple who have been leaders in Memphis for decades and live in our downtown neighborhood. How? We went to a coffee shop, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I had lunch where one of the most accomplished, energetic, enthusiastic women I’ve ever met, and we plotted to end homelessness and world domination in general. How? She found me on the internet and we talked on the phone and we had lunch, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I heard a roomful of people praise, weep for, and sing (literally) the praises of a man who introduced himself as “schizophrenic, nonviolent.” Because everyone loved him, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I went to a neighborhood dry cleaners where a man asked me how I was doing, and I said, “I’m well, and you?” And he said, You don’t talk like you’re from the South. And I laughed, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I bought a pair of earrings by an artist whose work is “a modernization of my family’s heritage through a colorful and bold interpretation.” And I will be wearing these fantastic earrings, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I donated to the Black Lives Matter Bail Fund to help those who can’t pay bail get the hell out of jail and back into the swirl of life, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I met a dog named Kobe and proselytized about Makeda’s Butter Cookies until I got converts and was agog that it is snowing where I’ll be going next week and lit candles for those I love and opened doors that were closed and lived my life, in Memphis.

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 6

(We have had a slight glitch in the rollout of the chapter-by-chapter lowdown on the novel, which is I skipped a chapter (blame it on the Torpedo Grass) So this is slightly out of order. Please accept my apologies. I’m wondering if you actually skipped from Chapter 5 to Chapter 7 like I told you?)

This is CHAPTER 6 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

OK. Last we left off: Lucinda was falling asleep—I know, I know: you’re never supposed to end a chapter with your character falling asleep. Experts say the reader will put down the book and NEVER PICK IT UP AGAIN. Which is ridiculous because we all wake up in the morning and start over again, right? So the last chapter ended with Lucinda falling asleep. But right before she did, she thought she saw the stars winking at her.

Our current chapter introduces a new word: Scofflaw. I know this word from reading. Yet, because I narrated this story for audio book, I had to say it out loud. And saying it correctly would be helpful. So I looked it up. There’s a site online that pronounces words for you. This is an extremely helpful tool for one who doesn’t hear people around her much saying “scofflaw” and isn’t sure exactly how to say it. I am CONSTANTLY mispronouncing words. It’s genetic, by which I mean, I’m from the South which pronounces lots of things its own way.

Anyway, in this chapter, Lucinda arrives in Chicago. Me, I’ve never been to Chicago other than to ride through on the train (I told you, I do research for my writing), but Chicago is my mother’s favorite city. She and my dad used to go there for the Wholesale Grocers Association Convention. They’d always return home with party favors. For some reason, their party favors tended to the personal hygiene variety (think a four foot square box of toilet paper), but when you’re little, a huge box of TP is pretty impressive. So, yes, Lucinda Mae is also attending a convention in Chicago. 

There is a reference in this chapter to Natasha, the character in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. If you haven’t seen this Saturday morning cartoon in a while, I urge you to go to the footnotes below and click on the link. Y’all, this stuff is FUNNY, in a sophisticated, subversive way. Kind of like Trailer Park Boys. Just kidding. It’s more like Flight of the Conchords

Finally, after hearing about Lucinda’s amazing adventure so far, I’m betting you’re saying to yourself a train ride might not be such a bad idea. Perhaps you’re wanting to get on the train yourself and ride. Do it. Every year, Congress threatens to kill Amtrak train service. When they finally get their way and halt the trains, a huge chunk of what makes America great will be ripped right from country’s the heart. Millions of dollars go to highways so we can tool along in our automobiles, but heaven forbid we help out train service. Killing the trains isn’t right. It isn’t good. But what is right and good does not always win. Ride the train while you still can. I’ve included a link to the Amtrak website so you can buy your ticket now. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

Fun Chicken Fact: Did you know that, “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” is a real thing? My mother has experienced the headless chicken running amok in her backyard. She says it is NOT funny. More like a raw-neck, blood-spurting, zombie chicken chasing her. Apparently, what seems funny in the imagination in reality often is not. 

Now go read Chapter 6 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES

ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTzuO24i-YA

Amtrakhttps://www.amtrak.com/home.html

TRACKING HAPPINESS: Chapter 9

This is CHAPTER 9 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Last we left off: Lucinda and Augie had actually de-boarded the train. Earlier, I promised you wouldn’t get claustrophobic reading the novel because they would get off the train and have adventures. Now you know I don’t lie. 

One more word of advice: in this chapter, Lucinda wears a jacket she bought in the teen department at Target. I have occasionally thought, given how small I am, I could wear clothes from the children’s department. Why would I want to do that? They’re cheaper. But what I consistently found was that shirts from the teen department are too small under the arms. It’s not that I’m too big around; my trunk is too long. So the armholes just about strangle my arm pits. In other words, don’t try this at home. It’s not safe.

Referenced in this chapter is a very famous Milwaukee beer joke. My cousin told me this joke when I was a teenager because he liked puns and so did I. I researched to confirm it is a real joke (it is).  I then spent an inordinate amount of time reading the other jokes on the website. I’m including the url to the site in the footnotes below, but it’s not my advice you go visit it. You will waste precious moments of your life that you will never get back.

I have also included in the footnotes some information on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which the characters talk about in this chapter. This is one of my favorite movies, and it is a TERRIBLE movie. The plot is fixated on drunken cocktail parties. The movie features a terrible racist stereotype by the worst actor of all times—Mickey Rooney. The heroine, Holly Golightly, is a 100% gold-digger trying to catch a rich man and, in pursuit of this goal, keeps hooking up with older, unattractive men. The movie features Jed Clampett in a serious role, child marriage, and, worst of all, it takes Holly the ENTIRE FILM to notice how gorgeous George Peppard is. It won 2 Oscars. It features Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” which is my mother’s favorite song. I named my dog Lucy Gardenia after Holly’s mob connection, Sally Tomato. I own a rhinestone necklace and earrings EXACTLY like Holly’s necklace and earrings. I would kill to look like Audrey Hepburn. The movie is a comedy. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

Fun Chicken Fact: Chickens will eat lizards. They’ll eat mice. They will eat tin foil. They’re what’s called omnivores. They will eat anything, though I haven’t put this statement to a scientific test, particularly the tin foil part. 

Now go read Chapter 9 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES SECTION for Chapter 9

Milt Famey joke http://research.udmercy.edu/find/special_collections/digital/cfa/index.php?term=6677.1&field=boggsNum&start=80

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
https://www.vogue.com/article/audrey-hepburn-birthday-breakfast-at-tiffanys

TRACKING HAPPINESS: Chapter 8

This is CHAPTER 8 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Last we left off: Lucinda is about to prance off on a grand adventure with Augie Green, the stranger she met on the train. Drinks are being served in the club car, and Lucinda is going to the party with Augie.

One very particular action triggers EVERYTHING in this chapter. The train stops. It won’t go forward. Why? Because someone laid down on the tracks to take a nap. THIS is a true story from when I first started practicing law many years ago. In that case, a man died. (Okay, this part isn’t funny, but it’s true.) He died because he lay down on the tracks and went to sleep. He’d been drinking. I think that affected his judgement.

We also have returned in this chapter to the Billy Goat Curse. I’m not going to talk about it. If you want to know more about the Billy Goat Curse, go to the footnotes below. More interestingly, in this chapter there’s a conversation about boudin. Boudin is food. You eat it. Augie, who’s talking about boudin, is from New Orleans, but boudin isn’t really a New Orleans dish. (Augie’s dad who cooks the boudin is from Lafayette, LA). I’m not a particular fan of boudin. It’s sausage with rice, basically. But it’s a good word. I’ve included in the footnotes a video from the Eater series that features boudin at Cochon and Cochon Butcher, two restaurants in New Orleans. Big Disclaimer: Cochon and Cochon Butcher are sister restaurants to our son’s Peche Restaurant, also in New Orleans. So I like Cochon Restaurant. The video shows boudin being prepared, and you can watch that, or you can turn off the video and just listen if you don’t want to, literally, see sausage being made. The video also shows you how to eat boudin so, if you’re in New Orleans and order boudin, you won’t make a fool of yourself. 

I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

Helpful Train Hint

If you ride the train, don’t arrive too early at the train station. It’s not like the airport where a two hour advance time is needed. If you do that, you’ll likely wind up standing outside a closed station that’s not even open yet. On the other hand, make your reservations as early as possible. You might think no one rides the train anymore, but you’d be wrong. Particularly if you want a sleeping compartment. Particularly if it’s around a holiday. Really, call ahead.  

Now go read Chapter 8 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES SECTION

Billy Goat Curse. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_the_Billy_Goat

Eater video on boudin.https://www.eater.com/video/2017/1/11/14238084/boudin-cochon-butcher-new-orleans-meat-show

TRACKING HAPPINESS: Chapter 7

This is CHAPTER 7 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

OK. Last we left off: Lucinda had stepped into the Great Hall of Union Station in Chicago. 

I’m gonna include photos of the Great Hall in the footnotes ‘cause it’s impressive, y’all. I want you to go look at the photos and then think of a young woman who has been outside the state of Mississippi exactly once in her life. Think about her stepping into that space. Even though I’ve been all over Europe. England. Scotland. Into the Caribbean. Mexico. Canada. The Middle East. Still, when I walked into the Great Hall, I was mesmerized.

In this chapter, Lucinda talks about the oyster on the chicken. It’s a real thing, and I went on YouTube to find y’all a video on how to locate the oyster (and also, you know, to prove it’s a real thing). But after looking at a few of those videos, I decided NOT to do that. There’s cut up chicken parts ALL over those videos. The novel you’re listening to is about being KIND to chickens. You don’t need to see dismembered chickens strewn all around. Nope. No video. Y’all are gonna have to trust me: there’s two small, dark meat “oysters” on the backside of a chicken. They’re considered choice.

What else do I want to tell you?

I have a pair of silver lame pants. That’s all I’m gonna say about that. When you finish reading this chapter, you’ll know why I felt compelled to tell you that. 

I think that’s enough preliminary information. Now go read Chapter 7 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

Fun Chicken Fact: Did you know that each chicken has her own personality. A calm, relaxed chicken lays more eggs. That’s the goal: calm, relaxed hens with lovely personalities.

NOTES SECTION

The Great Hall: https://www.architecture.org/experience-caf/tours/detail/union-station-icon-of-a-great-age/

Torpedo Grass

They call it torpedo grass. I thought that was due to its destructiveness. But as I spent three days yanking it up by the roots from where it had invaded the bed, I realized the name is more likely because it spreads like a torpedo. The tentacles shoot out deep underground and burrow through the dark for an incredible length. Then it surfaces. It can run under stepping stones, white as bone, only to emerge alive and green on the other side. It is a tough plant.

You can see the de-weeding job isn’t altogether finished, but it’s a huge bed.

After the weeding, I planted 3 milkweeds. Monarchs have already been spotted in the area. The milkweeds will add to a butterfly-friendly mix of plants I’m trying to establish in the bed. I then laid out 6 bags of mulch.

This antique gate is from New Orleans. I stuck it in the ground with sheer ingenuity and hard work.

Last, I fed Bigmama’s rose bush. This is the bush that I grew from the cutting my uncle gave me from the bush my dad had given my grandmother for Mother’s Day. I planted it in Memphis where it flourished tremendously. Then I cut it back and transplanted it in Waveland (Jackson to Memphis to Waveland—it is an amazingly well-traveled rose). It blooms on—wait for it—Mother’s Day. It’s about to pop out all over.

The famous Bigmama rose bush

This outing, I also planted Mexican Tuberose bulbs. If they come up, they’ll smell divine late summer. And, ya’ll—the geraniums lived all winter long. Outside in pots. It was a mild winter on the Gulf Coast.

The Louisiana Iris I substituted for my beloved bearded iris bloomed earlier this spring with profusion. The nursery I’ve come to rely on for advice and plants is nurturing a giant papyrus for me, which will go with the horsetail and umbrella palm. I’m learning to grow what this land likes. The drift roses are going strong.

Drift roses, which I truly love and which appear to love Waveland too

Oh, and here is a bit of the 100 daffodils bulbs I planted this fall. I love bulbs and being in the dirt. I don’t even mind yanking up the torpedo grass. Though I wouldn’t invite it to return.

A wonderful daffodil from the 100 bulbs I planted to get a drift of them started

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 5

This is CHAPTER 5 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Last we left off: Lucinda is in the dining car with Erick and the Bruised Magnolia, a new train friend. Lucinda has drifted into a pensive mood. She’s reminiscing about home and wondering if she needs to go back to Edison and make sure her mama is doing okay in the face of an ever-growing scandal.

This, Chapter 5, contains a description of homemade fig preserves. You might need to know the most salient fact about my Jackson, Mississippi, Morris family is we own the officially-certified, State Champion Fig Tree of Mississippi. That means it’s the largest fig tree in the state. This tree, at its high-point in life, was 50 feet across, 20 feet deep, and 15-20 feet tall. My sister nominated the tree; the Mississippi Forestry Commission certified it; we have bragging rights. If you, too, have a HUGE tree, you might want to check into this program. Then you’ll have bragging rights.

Chapter 5 ends on a serious note. Most of my writings are humorous, but they always deal with something that’s kind of hard. Sometimes really hard. Like your daddy dying. Lucinda Mae’s father died almost two years prior to the start of our story. If you read—or listen to—much of my work, you’ll begin to notice a pattern: the father is often dead. Now, you could conclude from this that I don’t like fathers, and I’m constantly killing them off, but that would be incorrect. My own dad died when I was three. A train hit his car. Yep, I’ve written a novel where our heroine is riding across country on what was, in fact, the instrument of my father’s death. Maybe later I’ll tell you about my history with trains, but all you need to know for now is that, though I had the best stepfather a girl could ask for, grief is a topic I wrestle with. It’s a topic Lucinda wrestles with. Let’s hope, before the end of our story, she’s wrestled it to the ground and won. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

HELPFUL TRAIN HINT: When riding the train, never take off your shoes. The area between train cars where coupling occurs (the train kind, not the human kind) does not totally meet. It has a crack. Your toes can get caught in the crack—right, this is a terrible situation. If one person hears this Helpful Train Hint and forgoes padding around barefoot on the train, it will be worth it. Wear. Your. Shoes.

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 4

This is CHAPTER 4 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Chapter 4. Last we left off Lucinda Mae had made it to Yazoo City on the train. 

Stop here a moment and repeat after me: “Ya-zoo City. Ya-zoo City.” NOT yah-zoo city. As a Public Service Announcement, I’ve included in the footnotes below a pronunciation guide to certain often-mispronounced Mississippi cities. I’ve chosen to offer the local pronunciation so that if you visit these cities, you won’t be walking around talking about, durn, you didn’t know Elvis was born in Two-pellow. Go read it. You’ll thank me later.

In this chapter Lucinda returns to talking about sex. There’s a lot of talk about sex in this novel because it’s a humorous novel for adults, and sex can be really funny . . .  or not, but most of the time it makes us giggle. There’s also some actual sex described in this novel, which I know you’ll be reading, which will be embarrassing, but you must sacrifice for your art. The point being, if you are squeamish about sex you might want to stop following along right now so that you don’t get all involved in wondering what’s gonna happen to Lucinda, and if Erick’s gonna win the Mall of America Your Idea Can Save the World contest, and what about the poor chickens who are being abused under the new Chicken Palace Emporium fried chicken management philosophy, and then you’re put off by the sex talk and you have to give it up, forever left hanging. Better to give it up now. It’s not graphic sex. I’m not a graphic person. But sex is sex. You can’t make it anything else.

There’s also a reference in this chapter to the Chicken Dance which is a a famous polka song, which if you’ve ever been to an Octoberfest anywhere, you’ve probably seen. In case you haven’t, I’ve included a link to a couple of YouTube videos, because we’re developing a chicken dance theme in the notes. They’re thousands of these things, y’all, and I’ve curated them for you, including a  disco remix. You’re welcome. 

Finally, Lucinda makes a disparaging remark about the dinner she and Erick are served in the dining car on the train. This has NOT been my experience riding the train. The food I’ve gotten has always been wonderful. But, you know, that’s why a novel is called “fiction”: most of the stuff is made up. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

Now go read Chapter 4 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE (I know, I know—no Helpful Train Hints or Fun Chicken Facts today. Come back later.)

NOTES for Chapter 4:

Biloxi: Bu-LUCK-see (not Bi- lox-see)

Tupelo: TWO-pah-low (not Two-PELL-o)

Lafayette County: La-FAY-ette (not La-fay-yette)

Tishomingo County: tish-a-MING-go

Yazoo City: YA-zoo (not yah-zoo) City

Belzoni: Bell-ZONE—ah

Waveland: WAVE-lan

Monticello: Mon-ta-CELLAR (this is my grandmother’s pronunciation, you’re going to have to accept it)

Coahoma: Ca-HOE-ma

Corinth: CAR-inth

D’Lo: DEE-lo

Natchez: NA-chez (not Na-chaay)

Iuka: I-YOU-ka

Kosciusko: Coz-ee-ES-ko

New Hebron: New HEE-bron 

Tchula: CHEW-la

CHICKEN DANCE

TRADITIONAL

DISCO REMIX

CHILI WILLY

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 3

This is CHAPTER 3 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Chapter 3. Last we left off:

Lucinda Mae had been touring the train’s dining car, when she stepped into the passageway that ties the cars together. This is truly an odd space. It’s enclosed, but very wiggly. Here, Lucinda finds herself with a man she immediately dubs “the Movie Star.” Their eyes lock, and the new chapter opens. 

This chapter has lots of true stuff from my own life in it. I’m not gonna tell you what the true bits are because, you know, it would be embarrassing. We also get into Lucinda Mae’s fashion sense and how it plays in her small hometown. Of course, I have no sociological degree that qualifies me to offer opinions on the psychology of small towns. Ok, I do have a sociology degree with an emphasis on urban sociology. Still, my opinion on small Southern towns and fashion is my own. BTW, we will wait and see whether Lucinda’s experience of her hometown as an albatross around her neck evolves. If you want to read more about my own fashion sense and how I turned one of the most devastatingly mortifying moments of my life into a published essay, go to my website and read “The Dress” which was published in Skirt! Magazine. The url is in the footnotes.

A very small aside. Katharine Hepburn brownies make their appearance in this chapter of the novel. A dear friend at my church brought Katharine Hepburn brownies to a church event. They were the best brownies I ever put in my mouth. I’ve included the recipe from the New York Times in the footnotes. I am not a cook (my husband keeps us alive every day), yet I could make these brownies. The skill level is low, the product good. 

Finally—because I know you’re getting antsy to get on with the story—in this chapter, we begin to understand how important chickens are to our tale. Yes, the novel’s tag (“A Southern Chicken Adventure”) is a clue, but you might’ve thought I was just being funny. Chickens are funny, but they’re also under siege. I mean, commercially under siege. I’m sure you’ve heard all about the hormone-induced lives of the modern chicken. What we are doing to chickens these days is not something Lucinda Mae’s dad would’ve condoned. Bill Watkins’ chicken-raising motto was “No One Here Is Mean to Our Chickens.” Remember that. It becomes important. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

HELPFUL TRAIN HINT: Trains might seem like something out of the Old West, but they aren’t. On Amtrak, which is the amazing US passenger train, you can use your PHONE to board the train. Just show the conductor your ticket on your phone, and he’ll wave you on board. At least that’s the way it works in Memphis. The conductor does wear one of those little hats, though. Not all train things are modernized, thank goodness. 

Now go read Chapter 3 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES for Chapter 3: 

For Katharine Hepburn Brownies:I got my Katharine Hepburn Brownies recipe from a friend. I lost the recipe. Fortunately, there are many recipes for KHB online, including this one from the New York Times. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/10782-katharine-hepburns-brownies If you want to search for your own recipe, note she spells her name: Katharine. 

For more on my devastatingly mortifying fashion moment, read “The Dress”:

TRACKING HAPPINESS: CHAPTER 2

This is CHAPTER 2 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

OK. Chapter 2. Last we left off:

Lucinda Mae Watkins was getting settled into her berth on the train. Unfortunately her very pleasant berth brought back very unpleasant memories of her brief marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Stirling Kenny. Y’all know how that goes. Lucinda is recently divorced, so EVERYTHING brings up unpleasant memories of her ex. Fortunately, before Lucinda could get all wound up talking about Stirling, Erick knocked on the door, ready to go sightseeing.

Now, at this point, if you’ve never ridden on a train before, you might be thinking to yourself, what kind of sightseeing can you do on a train? Isn’t it just one long line of boring cars, one after the other? In fact, you might be wondering how on earth I wrote an entire novel set on a train without it being boring as hell. Let me reassure you. A train has all kinds of different cars. Club cars and scenic cars and dining cars (Pay attention: at the end of today’s post there’ll be a test on train cars. Ha, ha. Just kidding.) Also, Lucinda Mae gets off the train from time to time and has adventures.  That’s why the novel’s called Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken ADVENTURE. 

In this chapter, we’ll also get into Lucinda Mae’s body perception issues. Lucinda Mae is skinny. I’m gonna let her tell you exactly how skinny, but she’s little bitty. My fondest wish is for all Americans to have a 100% healthy view of their bodies, but Lucinda Mae is one of those struggling to accept how she is made. Bear with her, please. 

Ok. We also get a whole new plot point in this chapter that involves Erick entering the “Your Idea can Save the World!” contest at the Mall of America in Minnesota. As you’re hearing about this contest, perhaps you’re thinking about an idea you have that you’d like to enter in such a contest—for example, you’ve got a great idea for an anti-migraine device called the Mufflehead, which is a big ol’ modified football helmet that blocks out all light and sound so poor migraine sufferers don’t roll around on the kitchen floor in agony (it’s a real idea, but it’s my idea, so don’t steal it.) You might have an idea as good as the Mufflehead, and you’re thinking a train trip to the Mall of America to win a million dollars might be worth it. So you’re wanting to know if the contest is an actual real contest. Not that I know of.  But I’ve included more info on the Mall of America in the footnotes in case you want to see for yourself what they might have to offer. 

Okay. I think that’s enough preliminary information.

FUN CHICKEN FACT: Did you know that chickens dance? I mean, they actually dance. Apparently, the male chickens (AKA roosters) have their own special chicken dance they do when they’ve found a tasty morsel (I’m not gonna get into what’s tasty to a chicken.) They do the dance to convince the female chickens (AKA hens) the morsel they’ve found is great and the deserve a “reward” for it. You must go to the url in the footnotes to get the whole story. (And imagine the chicken dancing story being told in a British accent—it’s a BBC site.)

Now go read Chapter 2 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES for Chapter 2:

What Mall of America has to say about itself: https://www.mallofamerica.com 

My essay on a train trip to North Dakota (from Memphis—that’s a LONG way). The essay first appeared in River Teeth (along with an essay from Philip Gerard!)

The Hart Women Step Out

This Saturday April 27th at 5:00 Central time in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, my family saga novel THE HART WOMEN will make its public appearance.

THE HART WOMEN was created by Marisa Whitsett Baker and me. I wrote the story (and revised it and re-wrote it and re-revised it, but that’s what “wrote” means.) Marisa created the books that hold the story.

The bone folder to fold the pages and thread to sew the binder

Both the story and the hardbound book are integral to the creation of the reader’s experience. The story is of elderly Emily Hart Fielding wandering through the decrepit family home, trying to decide whether to renovate the house to its past glory or give it up. As Emily struggles to forgive the choices she made during her life, she writes her memories and reflections in her journal. THE HART WOMEN is that journal.

Some of the novel covers will feature handwritten excerpts from the story

The reader will be holding in her hand the book with its soft cloth binder. She will slowly turn the pages, enjoying the feel of the book as much as the unfolding story. From time to time, she will close the book, marking the page with her finger, and study the photo on the front.

She will wonder how life would have turned out for the woman in the mirror if different choices had been made. She’ll ask herself if her own family might have made choices that crippled the chances of a family member. She will slowly continue reading, savoring the sentences even as she’s eager to hear how Emily decides to handle the future.

Each novel will have its own look. “The Hart Women touches on generational Mississippi families, its women, tradition, and life in The Deep South.” Janice Hall, Central Station Bistro

You can read a (tiny) bit about the launch here in the Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, community newspaper, the Shoo-Fly. After the launch, we’ll be taking individual orders for the novel. I’ll share the images, and you can decide which exquisite one you’d like to own. 🙂

Have You Eaten an Alligator Gizzard?

Today we start a series offering funny commentary on TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. You’ll enjoy the gossip, novel backstory, and personal revelations whether you’ve read the novel or not. If you haven’t read it, this “one chapter at a time” approach might just suit you to a T. Every Monday, I’ll give you the skinny on the chapter, you’ll be laughing, then you go read that chapter. On Wednesday, we do it for the next chapter, easy-peasy. I’ll also be offering FUN CHICKEN FACTS and HELPFUL TRAIN HINTS with each twice-weekly entry. Each entry will be one chapter at a time. We are wisely starting today with Chapter 1. As with the novel itself, some of what we’ll be covering here is “ribald,” to use an old-fashioned word. Don’t read this at work unless you giggle very quietly.

Ok. Chapter 1. Let’s get started.

The TRACKING HAPPINESS story is told through the eyes of Lucinda Mae Watkins, who lives in Edison, Mississippi. Edison Mississippi is not a real place. I made it up. You might ask yourself why an author would make up a town when there are plenty of good towns in Mississippi to use. I don’t know about where you live, but in Mississippi, if you’re talking about a small town, everybody in the town is gonna think you’re talking about them. Of course, I AM talking about folks. But you don’t want people to know it’s exactly them. So I fictionalized the little town of Edison, MS. Edison is NOT Edwards, MS, though—like Edwards—Edison is about 45 miles west of Jackson towards the Mississippi River. And it’s tiny. 

On the other hand, Mississippi is an actual state. And Lucinda Mae has some things to say about her home state. But as far as I know, no court has ever allowed a state to sue an author because the state got its feelings hurt. I pause a moment to add that my family has been from Mississippi since God was a toddler. That makes it okay for me, through my character, to poke fun at the state. But. It’s like talking bad about your mama. It’s perfectly okay for you to do it, but let someone else chime in, and they’re likely to draw back a nub. So don’t be emailing me with your “bashing Mississippi” stories. It won’t end well.

Right. In this chapter you learn immediately that Lucinda’s best friend Eric came to Mississippi via the International Ballet Competition. Now of all the weird facts I made up for this book, this, the oddest fact of all, is true: the International Ballet Competition is held in Jackson, MS every four years. It rotates with places like Helsinki and New York and some other cities. I could tell you how it came to Jackson, but it’s kind of a boring story, so just know it’s true. If you’re interested in learning more about the IBC—what days it runs in June, whether you might want to buy tickets or, you know, apply to compete—I’ve included footnotes (footnotes!) below.

I think that’s enough preliminary information. At this point, we bring you a Fun Chicken Fact or a Helpful Train Hint. This is your first chapter, so you’re getting both. After this, you’ll get one or the other but not both. Don’t be greedy. Enjoy today’s lagniappe. 

FUN CHICKEN FACT : Did you know that chickens eat rock? Apparently, rocks help the chicken’s gizzard digest its food. And, yes, in our extra, extra fun fact for the day, chickens have gizzards. Gizzard is a real word. Alligators have gizzards too. Some people eat chicken gizzards. I’ve never heard of anyone eating an alligator gizzard.

HELPFUL TRAIN HINT: When riding the train, bring a pillow. This hint is helpful only if you will be riding the train for an extended period of time. You do NOT need a pillow if you’re going from, say, Memphis to Greenwood. You DO need a pillow if you’re going from Memphis to Williston, North Dakota. Better yet, reserve a berth. Your poor, cricked neck will thank you.

Now, go read (or listen to) Chapter 1 of TRACKING HAPPINESS. We’ll be back twice a week to yak about each chapter of the book. Enjoy.

FOOTNOTES for Chapter 1: 
For more on what the International Ballet Competition has to say about itself: usaibc.com
For the 7 important facts about me, see the slide show on the Home Page of: ellenmorrisprewitt.com 
To see Elvis performing “Jailhouse Rock”: youtube.com/watch?v=gj0Rz-uP4Mk

Easter 2019: How Did I Get Here?

My Lenten practice wasn’t random. This year, I chose to create one thing of beauty each day of Lent (Lent is 40 days). I might not have articulated it on day one, but I chose this discipline in contravention of the more traditional view of Lent as a time of deprivation, penitence, and “doing without” as a cleansing process preparing us for the rebirth of Easter. The concept of humanity as sinners needing to be washed clean by the blood atonement of Jesus’s crucifixion is not for me.

I’m not alone in this. Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan, says the substitutionary atonement theory of Christ has never been part of his order’s belief. What a relief. Even as a young girl, I wondered who would admire a parent that would send his son to his death for any reason whatsoever; it offended me that my selfishness was supposed to be so great that I thought this sacrifice was okay because it was for me.

So what is Easter to me? It is the mystic moment when we choose not to hate. Choose not to exact revenge. Choose to love inside a sea of hate. When we choose to look for—and find—God in the most terrible of circumstances. This most unheroic of choices, that is the cross and Easter.

It is a view of Jesus I chose to participate in this Lent when I took on adding one thing of beauty to the world each day. It was an act of support and solidarity, you see. God suffuses this amazing world. This is the way Jesus saw the world, as full of God. I want to see it that way too.

HAPPY EASTER!!

Easter Saturday 2019: The Beatitudes

³“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
⁴Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
⁵Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
⁶Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
⁷Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
⁸Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
⁹Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
¹⁰Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5: 3-10

Lenten Beauty: 4/13/19

In my last Lenten Beauty posting of 2019 (Holy Week, which we have now begun, is no longer Lent), I created the beautiful thing of making it to Charlotte, NC to visit my mother, despite a medical emergency on the plane and an aborted landing, represented by this comforting light in her apartment:

They Won

Every article begins with the story of How They Lost. The defeat, the humiliation, the unprecedented collapse. But, last night, one year later, the story was of How They Won.

In another time and long ago, I went to the University of Virginia. I was young when I arrived, only seventeen years old. I wanted to go to a BIG, GOOD school, and the grounds of the University of Virginia were beautiful. I applied nowhere else and got into UVa early acceptance. My first year, Virginia won the ACC Tournament. Wally Walker was a first round draft pick. For a girl who grew up in the ACC in a UNC family, my expectations for Virginia were high. When I graduated, I believed the next year Ralph Sampson would carry the Wahoos to a national championship.

He didn’t. He won every collegiate player award there was to win for 3 years running and took Virginia to the Final Four twice, his final time in 1984. They haven’t been back since. Until this weekend.

We watched much of the semi-finals and the finals with the boys. I had to explain the meaning of “cliffhanger.” When Virginia beat Purdue at the buzzer, I full-throated screamed. When they beat Auburn with .6 seconds left, I could not believe what I was seeing. When they went into overtime with Texas Tech, I left the room (I learned that trick from my dad, a Tar Heel fan who frequently could not stand to watch the games.)

Then they won.

My UVa socks from 1976

Once, when we all still read newspapers, I asked my husband why guys read the sports page the day after a win when they had seen the game themselves the night before. He said something about wanting to read the analysis. This isn’t true. You read the stories of the game the next day to savor. You read to make that moment of winning go forever. You read to assure yourself it was real.

Last year, the University of Virginia was the first No. 1 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament to lose in the opening round to a No. 16 seed. With a loud, embarrassing thud, the mighty ACC team lost to the equivalent of a community college.

This year, the University of Virginia won the NCAA Tournament.

I sang the Good Ol’ Song at the top of my lungs, head out of the window, belting into an enclosed parking lot that had the acoustics of a cathedral. I think they heard it in Metarie. For a moment, I was once again that too-young girl who went off to college and fell in love with what she found there. The lawn, the Rotunda. The hallowed halls, the friends. The joy of being alive. And kick-ass basketball.

Hats on Parade

So, in searching for photos for a recent blog posts, I was taken with how many of my photos have me in hats.

This doesn’t look like it, but it was an Easter hat (with Evangeline)

I’m talking about the hats that were NOT costume hats.

One of my many grocery store hats, which are my favorite.

Even to me, some of these hats are odd.

Does it look like I stole this hat from a Leprechaun?

Not to mention this beauty, which I was wearing just this last Christmas.

This hat looks like I’m wearing a mushroom on my head. A sophisticated mushroom, but still.

When my husband and I first met, he wasn’t a fan of hats. He has, however, always been a very tolerant man.

That time this winter when I felt like dressing Secret Agent style, avec hat.

And, wearing my hats, I’ve worn him down. He now loves my hats. Good thing.

I wore this hat ALL last summer.

So, as we roll toward the end of Lent, you can absolutely count on my wearing an Easter hat.

My Easter hat from last year.

You can also count on my sharing it with you!

(If you’ve enjoyed the hat parade, you might enjoy MODEL FOR DECEPTION, my novel featuring Vangie Street, fashion model detective. )

Vangie Street is older—thirty-two to be exact—when she takes up modeling in the “big city” of Memphis. She loves showing the fabulous clothes almost as much as she loves her pound-puppy Retro, her cute if slightly decrepit Midtown cottage, and her hunky new boyfriend Nash. Life is perfect—until an expensive earring shown by Vangie’s modeling partner Heather Jackson disappears at the Memphis spring fashion season kickoff. When Heather herself disappears, Vangie must use her “clothes whisperer” intuition to puzzle out the truth of what’s going on….and keep her own self out of trouble. 

Model for Deception is a cozy mystery featuring fashion model Vangie Street who reads people by their clothing choices. Vangie’s sleuthing insights leave us wondering: what exactly do our fashion choices reveal about ourselves?

The Inappropriate Dress Gene

There I was, stepping into the gala for the graduating seminarians. The seminarians wore black shirts with white clerical collars. I wore a minidress from Billy Bob’s Chinese Laundry in New Orleans. It was leopard-printed. And flocked. 

I can’t help it.

I have an Inappropriate Dress Gene. 

My mistakes are not fashion faux pas. I know exactly how one ought to dress. I was raised by a grandmother who traced her lineage to the banks of Deer Creek in the town of Leland in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. My Bigmama taught me the black dress you wore to a cocktail party Friday night is not the same black dress you don for the funeral Saturday morning. I fully understand the seriousness of dressing appropriately. I just tend to miscalculate. 

I made up this dress by pairing the outer layer of my wedding dress over a black slip dress, and I was asked, “What are you wearing?”

My years practicing law in Jackson, Mississippi were, for the most part, benign—the social pressure squeezing a female lawyer into dressing compliance in the 1980s was fierce. So when I married and moved to Memphis, my dressing kind of spurted free like a spasming tube of toothpaste. At the same time, the sartorial stakes skyrocketed. My then-new husband owns a shopping center wherein is located the swankiest women’s clothing store east of the Mississippi River. One evening we attended a dinner party hosted by the store owners. Determined to put my best fashion foot forward, I arrived at her dinner party wearing a black lace see-through shirt and black bra with a fringed scarf strategically draped across the front. I thought I was so sophisticated. The woman cocked her head at me. “Look at you,” she said, smiling. “Memphis doesn’t dress like that.” 

I took it as a compliment. 

Not so the Cotton Carnival partygoers. When I attended their Mardi Gras party wearing a tiger-printed catsuit, no one would make eye contact. Or maybe it was the wig with its multi-colored, clacking beads. I was Cleopatra—Memphis, capitol of ancient Egypt, get it? No one else got it, either, not one of those sedately-dressed women in long black dresses who considered a feathered mask on a slender stick a costume. Only Preston Shannon, the famous Beale Street singer, appreciated the look.

My beloved black petticoat

I am perfectly familiar with the Backwards Compliment (“Only you could get away with those Python pants”). The Veiled Suggestion (“Now, I would’ve worn that red dress to a Christmas party.”) Not to mention my favorite: the Exaggeration. A friend once reported I’d been seen wearing black leather hot pants to a party. Sure, I had on black leather skirt with a fringed vest. But black leather hot pants? Who even knows what hot pants are these days?

Southerners as a group are not tolerant of those who dress inappropriately. If you think they are,  you’ve never worn a floor-length silky beige dress to the Orpheum Theatre only to have a woman standing outside ask, “Is that your nightgown?” In fact, Southerners go to extraordinary lengths to ensure every person at a party is wearing the exact same thing. If you go off-script, women will glance at their pink-flowered Lilly Pulitzer dresses then deliberately rake their gaze across your silky pink halter top and thread-bare jeans. “Rock-star chic” is not a Southern term. 

My boro-sewn britches

Of course, I could forestall such comments by aiming for the median. Instead, I stand in my closet, hands lifted, and feel the call. If it’s the orange curve-enhancing dress that makes me look like a shrunken version of Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, so be it. Only when I find myself in a roomful of knee-brushing Sunday school dresses, do I think, hmmmm. 

I bought that orange curve-enhancing dress for a public reading

And don’t get me started on parties with a theme. The invitation arrives in the mail. I rip it open. “La Moulin Rouge,” it proclaims, a gay Paris scene splashed across the front. Excitement wells, common sense jumps out the window. Surely I should foresee the slim cocktail dresses with pink boas draped around the neck as garnishment. Instead, I deck myself out as a Toulaouse Lautrec painting—chunky boots, ripped petticoat, peek-a-boo bra. The women at the party flip their boas at me. At home, I kneel in my flouncy skirt and pray: “Lead us not into costumed temptation, deliver us from social evils.” 

Imagine this pink skirt with a red petticoat under it, and you’ve got Moulin Rouge

I don’t want to leave the impression everyone judges my dressing a sin. I have those who encourage me in my choices…. you could call them accessories after the dressing fact. From them I get free clothes. I’ve been given a pair of black and white snakeskin boots, a 1920s antique silk blouse, a great-aunt’s mink-collared sweater, and a $25 mermaid-tailed chartreuse gown. Of course, these treasures came to me because the owners won’t wear them.

Dressed for the track in the gifted mink-collared sweater

Now that I’ve worn out my sartorial welcome in Memphis, I’ve taken on New Orleans. For the most part, New Orleans is extremely tolerant of odd dress. But we’ve rented an apartment in the Bywater. It’s a chic apartment. Everyone going to and from wears black. The apartment’s tag line is: ”You Are Beautiful.” I fear the lease has a clause (written in invisible ink) allowing the management to kick you out of your loft if you don’t comply. When management signs off emails with, “Stay Beautiful,” I read it as a threat. 

Oh, and the seminarian’s fundraiser with me in the leopard dress? I listened when I asked my husband what type of party it was, and he said, “I don’t know. Just some type of fundraiser.” I now request copies of every invitation we receive. If I’m going to misstep, it’s gonna be all on my own.

If you enjoyed this essay, take a look at MODEL FOR DECEPTION: A VANGIE STREET MYSTERY. This fun Southern mystery features a fashion model as an amateur sleuth. You’ll love the clothing talk!

Your Mama is Always Right

When I was young, I was hoping for something, I don’t remember what. But it involved a letter arriving in the mail. I was slumping around, despondent, certain the news would be bad. My mother said, “Look at you, you haven’t even read the letter yet!” Then she added something that has stuck with me ever since: “You aren’t even leaving room for the news to be good.”

I thought of this today when I went down by the Mississippi River to gather driftwood for a workshop I’ll be doing in a couple of weeks. My church in Bay St. Louis is hosting a cross-making workshop based on my book Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God. Folks can bring their own cross-making material, but I said I’d bring stuff too. Driftwood is my FAVORITE cross-making material, and one thing I learned during the years I was making crosses: rivers have tons more driftwood than beaches.

When I arrived at the river, I realized it was high. I thought, oh, no! There won’t be any driftwood—the entire shoreline was gone.

The Mississippi River at Mud Island in Memphis. This line of trees is not ordinarily in the water.

As I neared, however, I saw how wrong I’d been. The river had actually been higher. It had crested and retreated. As the water ebbed, waves of driftwood had been left behind. And the city hadn’t arrived yet to scoop up the “debris” into piles. It was the perfect time to collect wood.

I made a real haul.

So that was the universe being forgiving. It had readied an awesome gift for me. I had assumed disappointment. Yet, the gift wasn’t withdrawn. I didn’t follow my mother’s advice and leave room for it to be good, but the universe slid in there anyway.

It’s gonna take all I have not to keep this perfect crucifix wood for myself.

© 2017 - Ellen Morris Prewitt | EllenMorrisPrewitt.com