Thursday, May 11, 2017


When I married I thought cooking was following from memory how Mother prepared her food.  She was a dynamo in the kitchen, and my sister and I stayed out of her way. She never offered to give us lessons, nor did we show interest in learning. Many years later she told me she never wanted to force my sister and me into the job. She began at age four when she could reach the top of the old wood stove while standing on a stool. Cooking was a chore to her. Cooking became my chore also. In my marriage I had two unfortunate cooking incidents I’ll never forget.

When I was growing up, my favorite meal was fried chicken, rice and gravy, and English peas. Mother knew how to crust the chicken pieces just right and keep juices inside for tenderness. This was my choice first meal in the aging barracks apartment at Ole Miss in June,1954. 
Frying chicken was a cinch, I told myself. Countless times I’d watched mother as she wiped each piece with a wet paper towel, dredged the pieces through flour filled with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, plopped them into hot grease in an iron skillet. Turn the pieces over in, um, a minute or so. No sweat. Rice, no trouble, if by directions; peas, a double cinch; rolls, a kid could do in her play oven. 
As the chicken crackled in the grease, I stirred one cup of rice into two cups of hot water, opened the canned English peas and poured them into a boiler set on low heat. I remembered to turn over the chicken pieces before I opened canned rolls. Then I laid them in straight rows on the baking sheet, slid the sheet into a 375 degree oven. I was satisfied with a prep job well done.

For a silent few minutes a vision of my dear mother came to mind:

 She’ stands in the kitchen, one of her pretty aprons tied around her waist, perspiration dribbling down her face and arms. The room swells with fragrances from the sweet muffins inside the oven as unexpected visitors roll up the driveway. She can stir up a muffin batter and push the full muffin pan into the oven in quick time. When the guests walk inside the door, they say with glee, “I smell muffins. Ann, did you bake these for us?” 
I set out mint-colored paper napkins to match our pottery splashed in greens, browns and yellows. What a nice table, I beamed, as I surveyed my handiwork. This was my main job growing up. I smiled remembering my Home Economics teacher praising my “table dressing.” For the few events we had my senior year, I was in charge of preparing the tables.

 A strong aroma of fried-ness meandered from the kitchen into the living room and curled into the bedroom. I slapped my hand above and around the old stove for any resemblance of a vent hood. Didn’t all kitchens have them? I failed to think that the veterans’ apartments were built right after WWII. I visualized R's entrance into class that afternoon smelling like he’d pulled duty in a restaurant’s kitchen.

I rushed to open the four windows in the upstairs apartment, turned off the heat under the chicken, and lifted each piece carefully from the skillet to a paper towel and onto a warm plate. To make the gravy I poured water into the pan and stirred it into the fried residue and grease remaining. As I poured the peas into another pottery bowl, I noticed how pretty the green brought out the bowl’s mult-colors. 

I turned off the heat under the boiling rice. Ah, the rolls. I stooped and pulled out twelve burned balls from the dark oven. Well, the insides should be okay, I told myself with no feeling that I had an F in baking yet. Everything’s ready. Nope, the rice. Without checking it for done-ness (I didn’t remember Mother doing so) I drained the rice into a sieve, ran cold water over it and poured the glob into a pretty, matching bowl. 

We sat down to eat our first meal since our marriage two days ago. We’d moved to Oxford in a hurry so Richard could meet his first summer class. At noon he rushed up the old wooden stairs and greeted me with, “I could eat a dinosaur.” Well, wait until you bite into my chicken, I thought. I was giddy waiting for his compliments.

One second into the first bite, “Hon, uh, the chicken’s not cooked,” My new husband said, “ See the pink inside?” He waved a leg in the air. “We’ll get food poisoning.”

So what if the insides of the chicken were pink? The meat’s sure to taste delicious, I thought. I took a deep breath and five seconds later I said with feigned cheer, “I’lll reheat the skillet and give the chick a few more minutes.” I raked our pieces back onto the serving plate. Had I ever noticed to the color of cooked chicken before? 

 “Uh, have you tasted the rice? It’s clumpy. Why is this different?” Tears burst into rivulets down my face. Already I was a failure. Couldn’t he eat and lie by declaring this was a delicious meal?  I fled to the bedroom and flung myself on the bed in complete frustration. Where was sympathy for this beginner? A hug, or maybe a handkerchief to wipe my tears? At least an apology for hurting my feelings?

After a few minutes I realized my disappearance wouldn’t feed my new husband. With all the bravura I could muster, I returned to the table. Most of the rolls were missing, including the brown crusts, and all but one helping of green peas. I refried the chicken. This time the meat was a bit tough, the skin dry.  We ate in silence broken with my occasional sniff, sniff.  

I didn’t fry chicken nor cook rice for several years.  A review with Mother about my mistakes was on my first-home-return agenda. For the time being, I switched to spaghetti with meat sauce as my special dish.          
We moved to the small town of Picayune for a new adventure in 1963. Richard left the Highway Department after he was hired by a new home construction company. My husband thought we’d make a million dollars with this company which would build new houses to accommodate the “thousands of workers” guaranteed to move into town. NASA was building a space center in the area.
My cooking had improved by this time, nine years later, with the choice of canned and frozen items. They were easier and quicker to prepare for consumption. Even today my kids, who now as grown-ups eat organic foods, laugh at what I served from cans in their growing-up years: Spaghetti-O’s, hot tamales, vegetable soup, pork and beans, to name a few.  

My mother-in-law was our first visitor to our rented brick home to see her third grandchild, Jane, born two months after we moved. I shook when I thought of her criticizing my every move. However, I determined my time with her would be a success and planned her dinner with us.  Previous meals with her had gone well when we lived in Jackson. I’d never had a failure with my spaghetti dish.

  Stir the meat seasoned with some salt, garlic powder and dried onions in a hot skillet. 
      Plop dry spaghetti into boiling water until tender,
            Open a can of tomato sauce, add a dollop of Tabasco, and pour into to the sizzling meat. Stir and lower the heat. 
      Open a package of French bread, slice and roll margarine across the pieces in a baking pan, sprinkle garlic powder, 
         check the oven is on BROIL.
             When spaghetti is tender, run under cold water, pour into a sieve and into a large bowl. 
       Add meat mixture. Stir and when good and hot, pour over spaghetti sitting in bowls.
              Run bread into the oven. Be sure to watch for done-ness.
   Elizabeth set the table and filled three glasses with ice and tea. We sat down to warm bowls brimming with Italian/Southern-style aromas.  I wiped my face on my napkin with relief. Would I pass muster? Seconds passed; the roar in my ears began.

    “Hon, what’s this floating in my sauce?” 
    “I don’t see anything,” I replied, refusing look at my spaghetti. I steeled my mind to the oncoming disaster.  
    MIL agreed, ”I see them, too. They’re BUGS!”

    I bent my head almost into my bowl and swore in silence I’d not howl if dozens of dead crickets lay among the spaghetti.

  “Vivian, we can’t eat this with bugs. I’m throwing our food out.” A heavy silence reigned for a few seconds while silverware scraped against glass bowls.

   I resolved to eat my spaghetti, bugs and all. Within a few quiet moments I had  a solution.  “Rinse the spaghetti and put on more meat and sauce. That should give you enough to eat.” I wasn’t going to leave my hot bowl to satisfy these critics. I felt MIL cringe at my suggestion.

 “Don’t worry, Dear" his mother said, I’ll find something to cook for us.” Their dishes rattled in the sink. As MIL ran water over the dirty bowls, I imagined her smiling as she gloated over my failure. 

   Not to be outdone by these two weaklings, I seethed and thought: What if this was the only food they had while stranded on a mountain side? After a tornado hit our house? We were shivering in the cold as we watched our house burn? I gobbled my spaghetti with grunts of satisfaction, knowing full well if there were bugs they were quite cooked. My guest and her son ate eggs and bacon.

  I never learned to cook any better. Over the protests of my husband that they weren't healthy, I switched to TV dinners. No bugs, m'lord, in these meals.



Our first apartment without our daddy, was at the corner of Capitol Street and Prentiss Street in 
West Jackson, Mississippi. A rambling two-story white house with a covered porch had two apartments downstairs and one upstairs. We moved into the upstairs, trudging up and down wooden steps for two years. We lived on a bus line, very important to us because we had no automobile. This was 1947. I was sixteen and my sister was ten. Years later we reflected on that time and realized we were “latch-key” kids long before the term was used. 
We moved from an ugly, run-down apartment on the south side of Minerva Street, five blocks west of the train station on Capitol Street.  Daddy and his mother and a sister or two filled the large rooms. Originally a duplex, the parents had to rent both sides. Mother said his family members, who moved in and out of our small living quarters from the time they married, always expected Mother to wash and iron their clothes, make the beds, and cook and clean the kitchen. One day, with preparations already made, Mother announced to Daddy, “Either move with us to another place or the girls and I will move to a separate apartment.” She’d found one on a bus stop that allowed us to go places nights and arrive home without walking far. I liked it because many of my friends lived on Prentiss Street. There on the opposite corner the city bus heading downtown stopped. This was my first year to ride the bus to Enochs.  Because the buses ran frequently, if I missed one in the morning or in the afternoons, wait time was  fifteen or thirty minutes depending on the time of day.
Our apartment had two bedrooms and one bath. A large living room and a spacious kitchen dominated one side of the apartment. The kitchen’s line of windows looked northwest above houses to the horizon. Once a firecracker warehouse caught fire and we all stood ooh-ing and ah-ing at the marvelous bursts of color on the other side of town.
Mother was very excited about our new living quarters. She found through the newspaper advertisements a piano she bought and had moved into our new home. Without stressing the fact, she hoped we’d take piano lessons, what she lacked as a young person. I was a reader,  not a musician. I’d sit and tinkle the keys, or play chopsticks that everyone knew in those days.
To help defray costs of the apartment Mother rented the second larger bedroom. Two sisters who had recently moved to Jackson and gotten jobs out of high school answered and moved in within a few weeks of our own move. They were of a religious group that sang in church that didn’t allow music from instruments during their services. Perhaps that’s why we had music nights at home. They played hymns. not poplar music Glenda and I preferred, but that didn’t matter. It was music. We rejoiced when they brought home friends, as that called for a night of singing. Once they asked us to go to their church one Saturday night. We did and found it different from services at Calvary Baptist Church. Those girls became fast friends for the duration of their and our lives.
In the late 1940s everyone used one bathroom without a problem. Few homes to my knowledge had two  .Mother and the lodgers worked up a plan whereas no one would step on the other going in or out.  I never knew what our utility bills cost, but Mother never complained. Then the girls asked if their cousin could share their room. Mother loved these girls so she didn’t oppose another like them. A redheaded young lady who worked at Walgreens in downtown Jackson moved in. She loved music, too.  We were like one happy family for two years.
In addition to music, Mother wanted to expose us to books. The piano was the first on her list, and second, was her subscription to Book-of-the-Month club. She never read but she faithfully chose her books to arrive every month. There was space in the living room for stacking the books in a corner. Mother said, “These aren’t yet the books you can read. One day they’ll be in a bookcase in a larger home and you’ll be older and free to read these.”  We loved the day a book arrived. Magic floated around us. I was older so I could handle the scissors to open the box; Glenda got to pull out the book and get first look at the beautiful book cover. At her death we moved all those books, many still unread, to the library’s book sale.
I already was making weekly trips to the Jackson Public Library across from the New Capitol. So as Mother’s books stacked up, I kept busy reading my borrowed selections. I had to return checked -out books every week and was allowed only one at a time. Mother’s books moved whenever we moved, they were carefully packed and unpacked and packed again.  I was in college when I read some of her copies. Her Readers’ Digest Condensed Books arrived the following year and I read and reread those books for over ten years.
Glenda didn’t understand why we’d moved. She didn’t progress in her school work well the first six weeks. In those days teachers made personal visits to speak with working parents. After she spoke to Mother at work, she  was invited to dinner and a visit to see our home situation. 

The teacher told us later she thought Glenda was having family problems and wanted to know the background. After one of Mother’s delicious meals and  conversation, Glenda relaxed, saw a pleasant side to her teacher, and became a good student thereafter. I always thought she was confused about leaving Daddy. We accepted without question any of Mother’s decisions. Perhaps Mother should have sat us down and told us the bad situation she had with Daddy’s family. 
Daddy made appearances some weekends. Unknown to him, we didn’t miss him or care he ever visited, but we made him feel welcomed. He never spent the night. Glenda and I took it for granted this situation, because Daddy was almost a stranger to us. With Mother we had fun and played board games. We helped her fold laundry and wash and dry dishes while she told us what happened at the stock market. Mother had her first real job at Merrill, Lynch, Pierce  Fenner and Smith Stock Exchange. We shortened the last three names and called her business Merrill, Lynch.  She was backstage manager and often came home late from work. We took care of feeding ourselves and cleaning up our space. Our bedroom had twin beds and Glenda and I slept on one bed while Mother had the other. Lucky we were not to be large girls. We often were in bed when she came home. We heard her fixing her a bite to eat before she took a bath and get a few hours rest. 
At two or three o’clock in the morning she’d jump out of bed, dress and be out the door. In a moment the brakes of a bus stopping across the street let us know Mother was safely on the bus   I asked Mother when she stayed with me many years later why she worked such odd hours. She revealed she was terrible with numbers and despite the adding machine, she couldn’t tally the day’s receipts.  The New York office was kind and gave her to the next morning at 8:00 to send in her report. 

 Life in those times was safe. It was not unusual for Glenda and me to go alone to a movie after our homework on Friday nights and return home on the 11 o’clock bus.  We met our friends at the show and sat together. Then Glenda and I would regroup and take the bus home.There was on every corner of Captiol Street a bus stop convenient for everyone.  The bus home stopped  one house away returning from town. In those days folks sat on their porches till late at night in summer. This was added safety.  

Onc Saturday Daddy rode up in a red coupe to visit us. It was formerly a meat packing car.  The brand name had been painted over. Glenda and I didn’t ask how he could buy a car and not help pay for our clothes. Instead we girls snuggled in the back and sat on tiny seats while Mother climbed in the front. Daddy treated us to a ride around West Jackson and stopped for ice cream. He never offered to buy us a hot dog or hamburger. Typical of Daddy to keep “his” money close.  After a few weekends the car rides ended.

   We lived on West Capitol for two years. I finished tenth grade and Glenda the fifth grade before Mother found a brand-new, spacious house in a new subdivision when the city streets extended further north in Jackson. This ended our apartment living forever. 


   Rome in all its splendor lay before me. Never did I think I’d ever make a trip to Europe. In the summer of 1975 I  accompanied a group of students and faculty from my school on a plane-bus trip with several other schools from Georgia and Mississippi. Rome was one of our main stops. I didn’t realize at first that I’d keep this ancient city in my life forever.
The morning after our arrival and a typical touristy breakfast of coffee and hard roll, a group of ten wanted to see the catacombs our two enthusiastic college teacher/guides suggested. These were underground burial grounds for the poor and many middle class people because of the lack of land surface for burial. Early Christians had no money to bury their dead on the surface, so underground necropolis or catacombs were dug under the property of the few Christians who owned the land.
Like elementary school children afraid of getting lost, we tourists held hands by twos and imitated our guides who hopped onto a metro train from the center of the city. A quick transfer to a local bus took us along the Appian Way, a roadway lined with tombs of ancient notables. I was unaware of the fancy tombstones along the roadway paved with  original stones and bricks the Romans used in building.  Somehow I missed the landscape as I hung onto the inside pole for stability on the lumbering bus.

We arrived at the office of the Catacombs of San Callisto. We entered a dark hole via steps leading deep into the underground. Our guide led us through narrow aisles of burial sites with a flashlight. When there was something worthwhile to see, he turned on strings of lights along the way to show bodies preserved openly as they lay on shelves against the wall displayed like wares for sale.  The cool of the underground aided in preserving the white dresses, over the nuns' frail skeletons. We marveled at the sight of fingernails still seen on their bony fingers. In this particular burial place many Catholic hierarchy were hidden during the time catholicism was frowned upon. So much information to remember. I missed any mention the apostles Peter and Paul were buried in this place or another one down the road. The thirty-minute tour ended not too soon to return to light and fresh air. No time for souvenir shopping as the next bus was due any minute.
As we regrouped outside the visitors site, we heard the grumbling motor of the metro bus. Everyone dashed across the street, because in Rome no bus stops, but rolls along slowly while passengers embark or disembark.  As I followed across the Appian Way,  I tripped on one of the stones and went down on my knees. Dazed, I saw the corner of a stone dug between my left knee.  While I thought hours passed as I shook myself to realization,  they were only seconds. I heard voices. And a motor roar.

“Hurry, Vivian, you’ll miss the bus! Come on, hurry!” I picked myself up with extreme pain in my leg, limped across the street —thankful no traffic was in the area. The bus rolled a bit faster. I hobbled alongside wondering why I hadn’t taken up power walking earlier in the year. The back door of the bus was open and three pairs of hands reached for me and as I rushed along trying to match my stride with the bus. I thrust my left hand towards the saving hands inside and gathered enough strength to throw my right hand up to reach another that pulled me inside. I was exhausted from the strain. No one realized I wounded my bloodless knee. 
Missing the bus would have put me in the “lost tourist” category. I trusted my guides to get me from one place to another. I didn’t remember the names of the hotel nor its location. I had little money with me so hailing a taxi was out of the question.  I learned a lot about what not to do that single afternoon. 

Today my left knee is more arthritic than any other part of my body. I call it my “Appian Way knee.”  In no way is there beauty untold in the pain this knee experiences.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


When my family of two sons and a daughter made our quarterly trip to New Orleans, we traveled by car south on Mississippi Highway 51.  Forty miles south of Jackson we passed a sign: SANITORIUM.  No one paid attention, but I’d mumble, “I know that place,”  or “I lived there once.”  As the kids got old enough to show interest, they asked why I remarked about the area. I told them the story of my six months stay there.

I was seven years old in 1940 when my mother carried me to the Sanitorium campus. I remember I didn't protest, I was that obedient to do whatever she chose for me. We passed the main building housing adults with tuberculosis.  Two blocks down the road lined with perfectly mown lawns, dotted with flowering trees and beds of blooms was the Preventorium, where children from four to eleven years of age had their dormitories.  I joined forty-nine children to live, eat, play in a near-perfect setting. What was lacking was our families.

Did I have TB? I thought so at the time. In my family the rumor circulated my grandmother had it and  “ Vivian may have caught it.” This was reaffirmed later during weekly examinations when a panel of doctors looked at my chart, cluck-clucked at my weight, examined the X-rays, and nodded in affirmation. In my chest was a knot they thought was TB.  I weighed thirty-six pounds at the time, the lowest-weighed kid in the group.  This embarrassed me and I tried often to be at the back of the line waiting to step on the scales, so I didn’t hear, “Ooo, look, she’s not even at forty!”

Classes lasted a several hours. We sat at small desks studying geography, history, math and English. We second-graders practiced our handwriting. With mother’s postcards she sent daily, I worked to imitate her style. In tiny cursive she put more words on a card than anyone else. Those  beige-colored cards with their permanent green stamp comforted me at lonely times.

 Our dorm held twenty-five beds for girls, and same for the boys in another dorm room.  Our uniform featured one item:  white cotton bloomers.  We looked cloned, as the photo shows. The lasting memory of most of these little residents was those bloomers! Nothing attractive about them. Our shoes and clothes we arrived with hung in a metal closet  until our discharge.  I spent the spring and summer on this beautiful campus.  Sunshine was our staple, besides delicious meals and free haircuts (everyone had same “bowl-type” hair styles.) We played and napped. We slept at least ten hours a night.  A temporary home with a taste of stern leadership. Only we didn’t know that at the time. The regimen overshadowed the pleasure.

 The playground had equipment seen only in upscale country clubs.  The well-kept area featured a duck pond and a swimming pool. Rainy days kept us in an area called the “round room” because of its shape. We sat on the floor while Miss Effie, our away-from-home mother, read us stories. There were dolls, trucks, puzzles, books for individual play. The furniture throughout were scaled to our comfort.

Our relatives visited on second Sundays. This exciting time of happiness switched to crying when our visitors left. My mother wrote in her diary every time she visited with a few words: “Saw V. A. today. She seems so happy.”  She didn’t understand it was  my seeing her that made me content. By Monday I felt good having seen her.  The routine made me forget my loneliness.

I left in mid August. The reunion with my family, especially seeing my new sister, was joyous.  I never told my friends where I’d been for fear they’d think I had TB  During that one trip to New Orleans did I reveal for the first time that hidden part of my life. Forty years later.

Sixty years later I found a FaceBook page devoted to “kids from the ‘P’”. It is a happy reunion of adults once innocents trapped in a world largely unknown to the public. The page gives them freedom to express their hidden lives.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


I walked into the “Archeology of Mexico” class not knowing what to expect. Maybe a trip to an open site already probed? Maybe learning the basics of brushing away dirt from tiny bits of pottery or bone? Maybe learning how to “see” a pyramid as a big hill? I was excited.
This was my second summer at Monterrey Tech, as we American students called Instituto Technologico de Monterrey. It was a new year-round university located in the first large Mexican city south of Laredo, Texas. Hammers and drills interrupted our otherwise daily peaceful surroundings. Concrete buildings for dorms and classrooms rose like fertilized bean sprouts. Summer courses opened up for non-citizen students, many who came with their professors from American universities. Today it is a leading university for technological studies with satellite classes throughout Mexico.

Tired of grammar courses, I selected a literature course and one in archaeology to make an exciting six weeks in 1952. Since most instructors taught their classes in Spanish, relief flowed in quiet ahhs when this professor spoke English. 
Our class began in June and consisted of fifteen persons of various ages. I was nineteen years old,and the oldest, fifty, I learned later.  None of us knew the other. At first glance  we saw your teacher as a construction worker with his brown face and rough hands.  His voice was authoritative for a short, stocky man. He introduced us with saying, “I serve presently as the active chief archaeologist for the country of Mexico”. He said MEH-hee-ko.

“I have led discovery teams searching and uncovering pyramids of earlier civilizations
for twenty years.” That statement impressed the class.
We met daily from 11:00 P.M. to 1:00 P.M. Student discussions in the cafeteria after class showed our enthusiasm for our subject.  During classes our professor didn’t tell us how to prepare a site once discovered, or to grid an area to find chards of pottery. He enthralled us with tales of discovery of the still-existing unexplored wilds of Mexico  He emphasized none of the native Indians found deep in the forests knew anyone lived outside their area. He revealed how his workers made friends and learned necessary words and signs to help one another. Many of his discoveries are still displayed in  the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Mexico City.
He related how the curious Indians approached the traveling group. Bird whistles, broken limbs clearing the way, colorful bits of material wrapped around limbss, feathers dribbled among leaves. We listened daily to these wonders, all the time imagining our traipsing behind the professor, our hearts beating loudly enough to reverberate as drumbeats. Few of us took notes, as this course was not teaching but entertaining.

  One story I vividly remember he related concerned his mother-in-law who traveled as a companion to his wife on numerous excursions. The woman, after an arduous trip into the deep forests complained how her back ached with arthritis. The curandero, or shamen of the tribe,  saw her drawn face. Through hand signals and the bit of native language our prof had picked up,  the curandero insisted he could cure her.  The professor was enthusiastic, but not his mother-in-law.

   “I’m not drinking stuff he’s made out of animals or whatever, no way!” Her son-in-law persisted.

You’ll disappoint him and who knows what will happen to us. The ingredients are from plants,only. No animals.” The curandero brought a dark, thick liquid in a gourd and grunted as he handed it to her. She gagged when she smelled the contents. Her son-in-law instructed her to leave a small amount in the bottom of the gourd. He wanted to take back a portion to find out the herbs the curandero had used. “ The university scientists can figure out what the liquid contains,” he added.   With more effort than she’d use drinking Milk of Magnesia, the Mexican woman swallowed the liquid and lay down.                                                                                                                                                      

The next day she felt better, and six months later as the crew were ready to leave the area, his mother-in-law was free of back pain. “And, since then,” he boasted, “she’s never had a problem with her back.”
Monday morning of the third week the prof surprised us students after everyone was seated. He said one of the students unknown to us at that time, had approached him after class the previous Friday afternoon.  “I don’t believe a word you’ve said about undiscovered people in Mexico. I need more proof than a bunch of stories,” he smirked that Friday. The Prof then proceeded to
repeat what had happened from the time class finished last weekend to class time that moment.

  The Prof, not to be outdone with this Korean veteran who had seen more misery than most, thought a moment, then said, “Ok, Son, throw together a backpack with a change of clothes, some items to exchange with the natives, like small combs, ribbons, small trinkets, and meet me in front of the school at 4:00. There’ll be a lot of walking.” The time was 2:30.                                                                                                                                      

The Vet unintimidated by this  middle-aged man, said he could walk any distance without trouble. To which Prof replied, “Well, you’ll have to walk hurriedly at least 100 miles, so we can be back here by Monday morning. If you can’t, I don’t want to take you. Decide quickly, as I have to call my wife and mother-in-law to get ready for the trip.”
The young man asked the ages of the women in the party. “My wife’s forty and her mother is past sixty.
“If your mother-in-law is going, I sure can beat her walking,” the young man boasted.  Prof smiled, remembering his mother-in-law had walked many a hundred miles on previous trips but                                                                                                                                           
said nothing.While the Vet packed a backpack, the Prof gathered three men who always accompanied him, picked up his wife and mother-in-law and met the student at the appointed time. 3
They began the trip in two 1945 army jeeps from Monterrey and headed south. After a hundred miles of turns and twists on the highway and secondary roads, they came to the end of the road. “Get out, we walk from here,” announced the prof. This was the beginning of the long hike into the thick jungle. The Prof instructed the student to listen and not talk during the trek.  The trip into the dense foliage began to wear on the veteran. After fifty or so miles inland the Prof began to point to signs of natives’ presence. He whispered to Joe (whose name we learned later) to notice the trees. Indians hide behind them and follow the group. “ I’ll point out signs on trees and sounds you’re to listen to as we delve deeper into the forest. Take no interest, no speaking, and act unafraid.”
Often the group stopped to let Joe rest. He noted the women were in better shape to hike the long distances. Hours later they arrived at a clearing. On the ground was a display of strange food.                                                                                                                                    

Even when Joe hesitated to eat unfamiliar food, the party sat down and ate without worry of poisoning. Then they arose and proceeded deeper into the wilds.  The Prof whispered to Joe, “The food represents their acceptance because they recognize most of us from previous trips.” 

By nightfall they arrived at the natives’ community.  They prepared their beds at one side of the clearing and began to chat quietly. The Indians kept to themselves until daylight. The next day the small group mingled with the entire tribe and began trading. The return trip began Sunday early morning. The prof and the vet had to be in class.When the jeep dropped off Joe, he turned to the professor and said,  “Sir, I’ll never doubt what you say in class. I’ve learned my lesson.”

As the prof related the weekend adventure to the entire class, Joe behind me squirmed and beamed.  We hadn’t noticed him in earlier 
class discussions.  Joe displayed his treasures and explained his side of the story. He became an enthusiastic student from then on. He proved to any doubter in class we had a real archaeologist for a professor.                                                                         

Saturday, May 21, 2016


The first week of school in September my fifth period students of Spanish wiggle into their seats in language lab booths. Their books reverberate with thuds as they hit the floor I step onto the small podium in front and open the roster.
"Attention, please," I say first in Spanish, followed by English. I'll do it every day until I drop the English altogether.  "Quiet while I call the roll." I call the names, often having them correct my mispronunciation.

 I'm halfway finished when the metal booths clatter. Chairs scrape and feet brush back and forth on the wood floor like brooms.

A curly head pops above the partition. "Everything's OK, Teacher, I got it. Tamara passed out again."

I scramble off the podium and head to the fourth row to see who Tamara is. On the floor is a slender girl, her skin, a caramel color. She is curled like a fetus, unconscious. Some students huddle in the aisle while others sit still and crane their necks. Tamara writhes and moans without opening her eyes.

"Ooh," the curious utter in unison like a chorus in an ancient play. My insides squeeze with each whine that comes from the body. I hear shuffling as students close in for a better look. Instinct tells me I can't help her. I'm seeing epilepsy in action for the first time.

"Billy, get the principal!" I yell to the boy on the first row by the door.  I return to the podium and finish calling the roll while the principal and the coach arrive and carry the ill student out of the room.

 Tomorrow has to be a better day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


 Mother's mind was always tinkering with somewhere to go.  If no one accompanied her on some wild chase or if she had no personal transportation, those reasons failed to stop her.  I love telling this one adventure.

My sister and I were privileged to attend summer camp in Montreat, NC in 1944 and 1945, During the second summer Mother decided she needed a vacation, put her job on hold and moved temporarily to Asheville to be near us. She found a job in a small hospital as a telephone operator.  She loved being in a different place, without the hassle of her husband.  She'd take my sister, seven-years old, and twelve-year-old me out to lunch, after chugging to the camp up the mountain side in a taxi. Some days she took us to a movie.  We never let on that we missed the camp's activities. We loved our mother too much to complain. 

At the end of the summer she rode the train with us back to Mississippi.  During that time, and many times later to different audiences, she told us of her famous taxi ride.  She hopped a taxi when she first arrived in Asheville without a hotel reservation. She asked the driver to ride around so she could check out the hotels.  He did, and during that ride looked through the rear view mirror and said, "Where are you from, Madam?" (Now I must remind you in those years women felt very comfortable alone in public.) Mother said Mississippi, to which the driver replied, "I was stationed in Jackson, Mississippi, a few years ago -- at Hawkins Field." Mother then added, "I was switchboard operator at Hawkins for six months." He introduced himself, as did Mother and they realized they had shared one incident together.

Mother went to work at midnight at the field. She drove her car down the paved road leading to the sentry.  A short distance from the entrance, she saw four servicemen getting her attention with waving hands. She stopped and they breathlessly asked, "Can you give us a ride through the sentry? Otherwise we'll be late, and that can't happen." Mother agreed and they mushed themselves into the small car, she sailed through the sentry with her pass, and the guys unloaded down near the barracks.

"I've never forgotten you. Your name's Ann, isn't it?" She said yes.  "Well, this ride's on me. I'll show you a good place to stay while you're here.  In fact, anytime you want to see the sights of the city, I'm at your service."  Mother, not wanting to lose an opportunity, said, "I want to see a still." I'm not sure if this announcement surprised the driver. He answered, "Give me a few days to find one rather safe for you."

In due time Mother tromped through tall grass and around bushes to see a whiskey-making still in action. She was thrilled when she took a taste, and even more thrilled when the makers gave her a jar of their famous liquid.  

I never have heard of another mom desiring a visit to such an operation. She remembered that experience the rest of her life.