Sunday, January 15, 2012

Move Over Atticus Finch

For over forty years Atticus Finch has been my hero.

I was pregnant when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’ve lost count of the many times it has warmed my heart since. As I read those remarkable words I found myself hoping my unborn child might one day be just like my hero.

During the following years, my little family was not in any way like the Walton bunch on television, although we had our share of drama: tragedy, grief, disappointment and even divorce. But we survived. Often it was impossible for us to see eye-to-eye. It was hard, real hard, to always look for the good in one another and we failed as often as we succeeded.

We were a family growing together and sometimes apart during one of the most turbulent times of my generation. I used to tell my two sons that even in bad times we, the people, make up the structure of our family much like we, the people, frame the core of our nation.

Today I have to wonder if I marked my first unborn son while reading TKAM, since he grew up to become a small town lawyer like my hero in the book.

Last year, he was terribly concerned about his client, a much-loved African American retired teacher. “Miss Annie Mae,” he told me, “took in a homeless girl, sheltered and fed her and even tried to help her find work.”

I looked into his eyes where the depth of his soul can be found and saw his indignation. “It sounds like a good thing she did. What was wrong with that?”

Unable to shake his concern he said, “The girl went through her things and stole a bank book. Then a month later, she wrote a check on Miss Annie’s account, took it to the store where America shops, and cashed it. No questions were asked.”

I exploded, alarmed for a woman I had never met. “This is terrible. How did something like this happen?”

He sighed. “Miss Annie Mae was totally unaware of it until the store manager informed her that she was responsible for the bad check. When she explained that she had closed that account two years before, he told her not to worry, that he would look into it.

A few weeks went by before three more checks were passed in Miss Annie Mae’s name at the same store. Living on a fixed income, she could ill afford to pay for the bad checks; in fact, losing a dime of her retirement would have been a real hardship. Again, she explained this to the store manager, and as he had done before, he promised to take care of it.

Three months went by and she had been back home for only a day following minor surgery when two county policemen showed up at her door with a warrant for her arrest.

“I just came home from the hospital,” she explained. “I’m sick and I need my medicine.”

They said, “That’s too bad because you can’t bring medicine to the jail, prescribed or not.”

Although she pleaded with them, in the end they carted her off in handcuffs while her entire neighborhood looked on. She was arraigned the next morning clad in the nightgown she had been wearing the day before.

When my son got wind of what happened, he was furious. Knowing that he had to help her in any way he could, he bailed her out, offered to defend her at no charge and made sure she would not spend another night behind bars. He advised her to bring suit against the retail store and she agreed.

As is normal for our system of justice these days, it took a while before the suit was brought before a judge. Since Miss Annie Mae meant nothing to the retail chain, they were eager to settle out of court. They made her an offer and even hinted at the possibility of a long trial unless she accepted the chunk of change they were prepared to give her.

My son spoke up. “Miss Annie Mae is a good woman who for many years set a fine example for her students as well as others in the community. The accusations made against her were not only painful but humiliating as well. Her own church congregation shunned her after she was arrested; her neighbors were angry because she’d spent the night in jail. Miss Annie Mae deserves better, so I suggest you people come back with a serious offer, one to help make up for the damage to her reputation. We’ll talk then.”

Meanwhile, upon further investigation, an identify theft ring was found to be operating in one of the retail chain stores. That particular store had cashed all of the bad checks passed in Miss Annie Mae’s name and the perpetrators were eventually caught and arrested.

A few weeks later, my phone rang. “Mom, we settled Miss Annie Mae’s case today.”

Relieved, I said, “Oh, honey, that’s wonderful. Is she okay with how things turned out?”

“Yes ma’am, she’s happy. In fact, I just spoke with her a few minutes ago.”


He chuckled. “First, I told her to sit down because I had good news. After that, I told her that the court had awarded her a million and a half dollars.”

“Holy Cow!” I exclaimed. “That’s awesome! What did she say?”

When he spoke, his voice was husky, full of emotion. “She said, ‘Praise Jesus. I’ve got enough money now to put a new roof on our church. We’ve needed one for such a long time. God sho’ does work in mysterious ways, doesn’t he?” He paused before adding, “Even though they turned their backs on her when she needed them, she still wants to give thousands of dollars to her church.”

We were both quiet for a few minutes. Mere words were inadequate to express our emotions. With tears freefalling down my face, I finally broke the silence. “What a wonderful ending to this story,” I said.

A child who takes on the most powerful retail chain in the world would make any parent proud, but when my boy stood up for a defenseless, African American retired schoolteacher, the word proud can’t describe how it made me feel.

Miss Annie Mae handled her troubles, as difficult as they had to have been for her, with grace and forgiveness, an invaluable lesson for all of us.

My son was right to do whatever he could to restore Miss Annie Mae’s dignity and standing in the community.

Move over, Atticus Finch. Over forty years have passed since we met, but I have a new hero now and he reminds me an awful lot of you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Ghost of Julia, Past and Present

My son gave me a new, brushed stainless steel toaster for Christmas. No doubt he was tired of hearing me whine about the cheap small appliances I buy at Big Lots. So he paid handsomely for a good one. It is so good in fact, that it reminds me of the church I go to when I’m not sleeping in.

Let us pray. Please kneel. (The bread slowly slips down the slot.) Amen.
Please stand. (The blessed slice of bread pops up as though resurrected.) Sing Hallelujah!

I named my brand new, over-sized brushed stainless steel toaster, Miz T. She has more ways of cooking bread and bagels than Julia Child had butter to spread on them.

In addition, she speaks to me in gentle, female language that I can understand ~ after my second cup of Starbucks, that is. My upscale toaster converses with a quiet Ping! Ping! when the toast is ready, but should I need more time for preparing other foods, Miz T happily keeps the toasted toast as warm as … well, toast.

All I have to do is locate the correct button on the face of the toaster and give it a slight click. There are way too many buttons to choose for my small brain to comprehend. I keep a book of instructions close by that I don’t attempt to read until after Mr. Starbucks has kicked in.

With the knowledge that a newfangled piece of electronics was living in my tiny little kitchen, how could I be satisfied with the bargain microwave bought at Big Lots when I was in too big a hurry to be selective? And the twenty-dollar toaster/oven from WalMart next to it looked seriously gross. It was white when I bought it and remained that no-color until after I set it on fire along with the leftovers inside of it. It had to go. In foodie lingo, the old toaster-oven was toast.

I may be getting on up there in age, but I can Google and email as well as a fifth grader. In my opinion, that translates to ‘I’m an up-to-date, electronic state-of-the-arts kinda gal.’ So by all rights, shouldn’t my kitchen footprint reflect the authentic ME and not the best bargain brand to be found at Big Lots or Walmart?

So I gently rubbed my hand over Miz T, my new electronic toaster, and when I did, was inspired to ask her two questions: What would Julia think of my mish-mash of a kitchen? (I shuddered at the thought). Okay then, what would Julia do? Duh.

The answer my friends, was not blowin’ in the wind. In epicurean lingo, you might say that the answer was a piece of cake, as obvious as a partridge in a pear tree. If I learned anything at all after reading Julie’s blog that inspired the movie I went to see twice, I can guess what the lady in question would do if she were me.

The Queen of Chop Chop would haul her considerable tush down to an upscale appliance store where she would gush over one thing and another in that easily recognized voice of hers. And then she would very grandly pull a wad of cash from her 1960’s style patent leather pocketbook and put her money where her mouth was most comfortable … in good food and the appliances that make them good. That’s what Julia always did and that’s what she would do if she were in my situation.

A kitchen timer waits for no one.

I beat it downtown today and am proud to report that I am now the proud owner of a new brushed stainless steel Panasonic microwave oven and a new brushed stainless steel Oster Toaster Oven. They match each other. They also match their holier-than-thou sister (the Sainted Miz T), best known for kneeling and praying for a better life than her predecessor.

My two newbies are both biggies so I no longer have much counter space on which to work. But so what? Just this morning I learned how to poach an egg in less than a nanosecond in my new microwave. I warmed up leftover sausage in my new toaster/oven, and then got down on my knees and prayed with Miz T that my bagel would rise up with a soft-sounding Ping! and not be burnt at the stake. I was justly rewarded.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Mockingbird Soupapalooza

I have reached the ripe old age where two things consume me more than ever. One of them is a passion for making homemade soup. As soon as the notion hits me I go into chop, chop mode. Babe insists he is way too young to be spooning or sipping his meals. Well, that's a man for you. My friends are well-acquainted with and love my signature soups so it's my story, my fifteen-minutes and I'm sticking to it.

My other passion is trying to figure out what to include on my Bucket List which I tend to update more frequently than ever these days. I used to hold onto the shrinking hope that I would one day win a prize of some kind for something I had said or written. Not a Pulitzer, nothing so grand. But an award for marathon talking would not be out of the question, would it? Alas, I have now lived long enough to realize that even that ain't gonna happen.

So while I chop soup veggies with a vengeance, a flowery thought begins to blossom. I am known around St. Simons Island as The Soup Potzi because of my love for making soup and sharing it. So why not turn my Bucket List into a Soupapalooza?

Here goes: I'll make a big, I'm talking HUGE, pot of soup with veggies picked and dug up from the White House garden. If it were possible to get in touch with Michelle Obama as easily as I touch bases with the Doodah Sisterhood, no doubt Mrs. O would happily give me a thumbs up on raiding the national veggie patch.

Think about it. I could chop-chop, sauté, stir and taste my Soupapalooza in the White House kitchen. How cool would that be? For sure I would need lots of good help and for that I would peruse my original Bucket List to see who I hope to meet before I meet my uh ... you know.

Dori Sanders. Mrs. Sanders is the South Carolina author of many cookbooks that feature fresh fruits and vegetables, especially peaches, grown, harvested and sold at a roadside stand by her own hand. I have always wanted to meet her and this way maybe I could talk her into preparing a South Carolina peach cobbler for the First Family.

I would then invite the First Couple and those two precious children to come for the prepared meal. (Hope those kids like fruits and vegetables). I am pretty sure the entire family does the nutritionally balanced food thing. One look at those four healthy looking bodies says it all.

Not very far down on my Bucket list is the name of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. I don't want to go to that Writer's Conference in the Sky without being in her presence at least once. Ms. Lee ought to be seated at the First Table. I have heard rumors that she is painfully shy and extremely protective of her privacy. Even so, how could she not enjoy a down-home bowl of White House Veggie Soup at the table surrounded by our country's first African American President and his family? I would even call my concoction Mockingbird Soup if she agreed to join us.

I don't know how Chinese cellists feel about soup, other than egg-drop or won-ton, but I know for certain that I would want to invite Yo Yo Ma to join us for a bowl or two of my concoction at the White House, if he would agree to bring along his cello. (Like he would ever leave home without it?)

Imagine this: Yo-Yo's concert dates get cancelled, Harper Lee's infirmities demand homemade chicken soup, and President O? Well, I might have to add something spicy to the soup in order to put dark hair back on his head or chest. Lord knows he'll be white-haired before too much longer while busting his hump to straighten out our messed up world.

Itzhak Perlman and his violin would be nice to round out our group. Not sure how classical music fits in with ordinary homemade vegetable soup, but it's worth a shot.

I could go on and on, but I ask you, what else is a Soup Potzi supposed to do while waiting for a global garden to grow?