I told Dee and the children a story the other day about the first time I ever saw snow, and Dee suggested I write about some of the important “first times” in my life. So here are some of my recollections, starting with the snow story.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw snow. My dad got me up one morning and dressed me in what, before then, had laughingly been called a “snow suit.” It was dark red, burgundy I guess, and itchy scratchy wool, probably a hand-me-down. Everyone traded children’s clothes back then, still do at our house. Dad carried me to the kitchen and Mother told me they had something to show me, outside. But first, I had to drink a cup of “hot water tea.” This tea is made by filling a cup nearly full with milk, then adding a little boiling water to warm it. Next, add a little honey or sugar to sweeten. It is nice on a cold, winter morning or at bedtime. So, I drank my tea and Dad carried me outside – and the whole world was white! In our backyard, the snow must have been 8 or 10 inches deep, totally unusual for our area. My great big dad showed me how to make snowballs and we tramped around the yard until I was soaking wet. Mother had been watching from the kitchen door. I have no idea where my brothers were but possibly across the street, playing with their friends, the Cook boys. Anything more than a few flurries is still cause for a holiday in our part of the south.
Equally unforgettable was the first time I had shrimp. We lived in Myrtle Beach for a short time, during World War II. One Sunday, after church, we drove down to Murrels Inlet, south of Myrtle Beach, going towards Georgetown. We enjoyed eating at a place called, Lee's Inlet Kitchen - and it's still there. The seafood is really fresh and delicious. My brother, Bob, was 16 or 17 and so grown up, I thought. I don’t remember what else was ordered but Bobby ordered a shrimp cocktail. He offered me a boiled shrimp and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever tasted! For the second shrimp of my life, he added a dab of cocktail sauce. It is still one of my favorite foods, just boiled, not fried.
Incidentally, few years ago, I was told another story about Lee’s.. It seems some friends were having dinner there one night when a drunk walked outside and peed up against the outside, front glass. Obviously, he thought it was opaque but, alas it was not as he tried to explain to the deputy who carried him off.
I have written before about my funny journey to become a good cook. The first beef roast I ever cooked was so tough we had to hack it into teeny pieces to swallow it. The sweet old butcher had tried to tell me how to cook it but later on I decided he knew next to nothing about cooking. My husband was part owner of seven grocery stores and, of course the employees were very nice to me. We took no discount for our groceries so I was on a tight budget. I’m sure the roast was either a shoulder or chuck and I didn’t know to cook the darn thing half a day! Nowadays, I can get any piece of meat tender but sure did learn the hard way. Of course I’ve graduated to better cuts and quality of meats.
Tony had a MA in banking and finance so his next job was in the Trust Dept. in the Augusta bank that is now part of SunTrust. Very soon, he became head of the Trust Department and later, President of Georgia Bankers, Trust Division. Not long after he went with the bank, his mother died. The next day, he’d gone to take care of some of her business when two nicely dressed, middle aged men came to my front door. I’d heard their names but not met them. They were the Chairman of the Board of the bank and the President. Later, they became good friends but that day, I was very pregnant and nervous. I’d had my mother in law in my home, nursing her for over two weeks. Then I’d pretty much spent the third week with her in the hospital, before she died. When the men and I sat down in the living room to chat, our young dog raced into the room and proceeded to do a large, smelly poop right in front of the guests. I just sat there but fortunately a neighbor came in and hauled the dog, poop and all, outside. [I told Michael this story and at the end I said “What was I supposed to do?” and he replied, eyes twinkling, “Offer them something to eat?!”]
Another funny “first” was the first time my mother heard Tony’s name. She was uneasy that he might be a foreigner. [Nope, he was Scotch-Irish and Welsh descent.] It turned out that he was the third son. On the way to the hospital to give birth, my mother in law said she’d only picked out girl’s names so panicked and tried to think of a boy’s name. About that time she looked out the car window and saw Anthony’s Pharmacy-- so Anthony was it. My Tony hated that story and insisted we name our son, Algernon, after Tony’s dad. I couldn’t call a child that name so put Bruce as his middle name. He was called Bruce until he went into the Army where they called him Al. Now just close family still call him Bruce.
I’ll always remember my first glimpse of England. I was a child during the second World War .I stayed glued to the big, old wood radio for all the news but for the music as well. I knew all the words to all the popular songs as well as the patriotic songs. I read everything I could find about the war. My parents didn’t object to anything I read. On my first trip to Germany, we drove up to Osteen, Belgium, making several stops along the way. There, we took the ferry over to England. When we were almost there, someone said, “ Look, there are the white cliffs of Dover.” We stood at the rail, as we approached, and I had big fat tears running down my face. In my mind I was hearing the old son, “There’ll be blue birds over the White Cliffs of Dover. Tomorrow, just you wait and see.”
I knew something about war, although the war my generation fought in was Korea.
The first time I ever sang for the USO, for soldiers returned from the war, was a very emotional “first.” During my freshman year in college, I was a soloist with the UGA Men’s Glee Club. I was on voice scholarship but because I refused to major in music, the amount of money was quite small. I lived at home, in Atlanta, my two middle years of college. During my time back in Atlanta, I was invited to entertain in Army camps around the south. I worked for the Jewish U.S.O. Of course, this was volunteer work, no pay, but I worked very hard. Transportation, meals, and beds were furnished. We ate with the soldiers and stayed in guest quarters or nurse’s quarters, usually nice or at least comfortable. (When I say “we”, I am talking about my long time friend, Pat Ewalt. She played piano like an angel and we worked well together. The trips were always on weekends.)
Our first trip was to a Fort, in Alabama. Standing on a wood stage, outside, in Alabama summer heat, with the gnats, praying they wouldn’t fly into my mouth, was quite an experience. High heels and stockings added to the fun. That show was on Saturday but Sundays were the heartbreakers. The guys pushed the piano through the wards of the hospital so I was actually close, a few feet away, from the sick and injured soldiers. I quickly learned to say hello, pat a foot or hand, then move on. I learned on that trip that if I lingered, I grew emotional, then my throat closed and singing was very difficult. That trip was a learning experience and we were able to alter some of our programs to better fit the situation. There was often a dance on Saturday nights which we did not attend. Mostly girls from town came to the dances, we were told, but we were too tired to dance anyway. Somewhere in my jewelry box is a gold USO pin that I was presented.
Thinking about that particular experience still makes me emotional, all these years later, so I will close with that story.
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