Friday, May 30, 2008


I think that many people who don’t live in small towns think that nothing very interesting ever happens in them. These people use words like “sleepy” and “dull” to describe small town life and they often think that the inhabitants of small towns are unsophisticated rubes.

Clearly, they never met Crisco.

Let me explain. See, a few nights ago, I was two towns over having a frozen treat at Tony’s Ice Cream (makes Haagen-Dazs taste like Winn-Dixie ice milk, but that’s another story). After I wiped the final drips of butter pecan away, I wandered outside into the gathering twilight. I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going; I was happy just drifting along under the clear night sky. Suddenly, a tall, rawboned man reached out a ham-sized hand to keep me from walking straight into him. I was embarrassed and stammered an apology for being so moonstruck by the beauty of the soft spring evening, but he just waved me off and said, “Now, miss, don’t you fret none. I get the same way when I’m working. You just have to kinda take in everything, don’t you? And it still runs over the edge of the cup.”

Turns out I had just run into (literally) the great up-and-coming installation artist, Crisco. He was in town planning his next huge scale project, which involves wrapping the local Sun-Drop bottling plant in thousands upon thousands of Moon Pie wrappers. I didn’t catch it all, but there was something about making a statement about consumerism and Southern identity and I don’t know what-all.

I tried to interject into the admittedly one-sided conversation. It sounded so similar – had he ever heard of the Bulgarian installation artist who made a world-wide name for himself with his colorful huge scale wrapping projects involving islands, buildings, and Central Park? Although I’m pretty sure that guy doesn’t carry a Cheerwine bottle with a paper napkin shoved down it to catch the residue from the pinch of Skoal he had tucked into his lower cheek, giving him the look of a plaid-draped squirrel.

He looked surprised. “Sounds like this fella is trying to rip off my good name and work. I’m Crisco. There’s only one of me, no matter what this European might try to say. Wanna Moon Pie? I need the wrapper.”

Only in a small Southern town.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Savoring the Strawberries

I’m about to leave town for a short vacation before my summer class begins in about ten days. This break provides me with a good time for me to stop, drop, and roll. No – wait a minute. That’s not quite right, is it? I mean that it provides me with a good time to stop and look around at my life. Yeah, that sounds more like it.

It’s been a busy, hectic time and I think I often get caught up in the minutiae of daily life and forget to savor things. It’s good to remember that life is more than an unending series of lists and a few days with my toes in the sand is a good way for me to recall that bit of wisdom. So let’s see – a week’s worth of things to savor, some from the last few days and some (hopefully) from the near future.

1. Helping out at a therapeutic riding horse show. I was washing ponies by 7 a.m. and sunburned by noon. By the time it was over, I was filthy with horse-grime and so exhausted I had to catnap before I could muster the energy to clean up. It was better than New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras combined.

2. Eating the strawberries that the Divine has put in my life; some of which are literal and some of which are delightfully metaphorical.

3. Music – both new stuff and old favorites re-discovered.

4. Having Krispy Kreme for breakfast.

5. Playing hooky for an afternoon to gawk at lemurs and feed emus. By the way, emus are greedy birds, sloppy eaters, and very, very persistent.

6. Re-discovering the joy of reading aloud.

7. Sitting on the beach, reading a Terry Pratchett novel and daydreaming.

So what do you savor?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Semester's End!

Well, sports fans, it's almost over. Monday is the final day of classes and Tuesday is graduation at the college. While I will once again be wearing someone else's monkey-suit regalia, I've at least ordered mine. Yes, my very own fancy, velvet-trimmed bathrobe - black with stunning purple accents, edged in gold and topped with a gold-tasseled hat modeled after a brioche. (Hey, no one ever said regalia was tasteful and restrained! Still, it's better than Harvard's, which is pretty much the color of dyed fish bait and that's not sour grapes on my part. See what I mean?)

I like graduation. Some of my colleagues bemoan it and I understand their point of view. It's hot in those robes, which aren't very easy to move around in. We hold graduation in the school's amphitheater, which features some very rigid aluminum benches and boy howdy! can those hold the heat of the Carolina sun! But our students have worked hard - often very hard - and that deserves to be celebrated. So I'll straighten my puffy brioche, ask someone to drape the long hood down my back properly (I never can manage to get the colors to hang right on my own), and stalk around with a packet of bobby pins to secure mortarboards.

So, in the spirit of graduation, the highlights of my never-to-be-given commencement speech:

1. When you're sick enough to go to the emergency room (and you will be), never, ever go alone. Your friends want you to call, not to tough it out because you didn't want to inconvenience anybody.
2. Take an extra two seconds to smile at the people who re-fold the clothes you just tried on and decided didn't suit you.
3. We stay in school to have better opportunities. Don't get so busy with work that you miss them when they come your way.
4. While you shouldn't become a slave to fashion magazines, update your look from time to time. As a person, you're changing and evolving and that should be reflected in your outward appearance. Otherwise, people will continue to treat you as if you're still the age you stopped changing. (And heaven help you if that's during the high school years! Oh, the photos I have from that time . . . )
5. Sometimes, telling someone "no" is the kindest thing you can do for them.
6. When someone who has known you for a very long time gives you advice, even if you didn't ask for it, it's best to listen. However, keep in mind that you still have to live with your decisions and actions.
7. Be willing to expand your boundaries while being true to your own likes and dislikes. For example, I'll try about anything, but I don't expect to ever really like seafood at this point of my life.
8. Read books you don't quite understand. Then spend time thinking about them. You're not stupid; it'll click after a while, but give it a while.
9. Every now and then, play hooky. (This must be balanced with #6, which can be tricky, but you're a grown-up and life involves essay questions.)
10. Don't expect the world to change just for you. The light turns red for everyone sometimes; it's really not personal.

Yeah, I know. Lists usually have ten items, but this is mine, okay? So here's Number 11. Live passionately and by your own lights. This is risky, for it means you'll make mistakes and occasionally, they'll be big ones, and might often be made in public. But you'll at least have been authentic.

Go forth and do good work!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Derby Day!

I’ve always enjoyed the Kentucky Derby. Seriously – always. I was first put on a horse when I was about three and that bug bit hard. Since this is also a weekend devoted to end of semester chores, I didn’t have a Derby party to go to, which meant I needed to make my own.

Being a believer in the axiom of “life is uncertain; eat dessert first,” I assembled a plate of farmers’ market strawberries, lemon petit fours, and mint chocolate. (I’m Southern and I know it; I don’t need to prove it by sipping a julep, but I do enjoy mint.) I picked my horses and settled in for the 134th Run for the Roses.

The race was exciting, as it always is. I was yelling like Eliza Doolittle at the Ascot. Gorgeous animals, flying manes, pounding hooves, breaking from the outside - this race had everything. The favorite, Big Brown (yep, named for UPS), was the first horse since 1929 to win from the 20th position.

But it was tempered with sadness.

My first choice was Eight Belles – I have a natural affinity for fillies and one of the first Derby races I remember screaming my lungs out at was the 1980 race, which was won by the speedy filly Genuine Risk. Eight Belles ran a whale of a race, coming in second to Big Brown, who practically burned up the Churchill Downs track, winning by 5 lengths. Tragically, Eight Belles broke down just after the finish line, breaking both front ankles – an injury that is not recoverable for a horse; they just won't stay still to let the bones knit. She was euthanized on the track, which is a kindness in such a situation. I never met her, but I know she was valiant – all horses are. In the Book of Job, it is written of the horse that “She paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in her strength . . . she mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted . . . she saith among the trumpets, 'Ha, ha.'" May you be among the trumpets now, Eight Belles.

Amidst the fancy hats and the strains of Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home,” here’s a sure thing to remember at the betting window: Life is uncertain.

Postscript: I was curious about the name, which seems to me a clever cross between a nautical reference and a Southernism. Knowing that that time is marked on ships by the ringing of a bell, I did a quick bit of research. "Eight bells" signifies the ending of a watch. It is also used to mark the passing of a sailor. When I read that, I got chills.