Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Brilliant Career

                                          And Then Came Mabel

Mabel had a certain bawdiness about her and she often made off color comments out the side of her mouth regarding certain customers.  Her ample body was as soft and round as her face, which was framed by coarse wiry puffs of hair that resembled combed out pot scrubbers. She always wore a necklace with the initials G.I.B. at the front.

When I asked her about it, she elbowed me in the ribs and side whispered in my ear, “You know what that means doncha?!  Good in Bed!  An old lover of mine gave it to me and I never take it off.  Even when everything else is on the floor – the necklace stays on!” She laughed a throaty laugh and added with a wink, “Good advertising!”

Mabel had worked in every state in the Union except for Hawaii and she had a story for every one of them too.  She’d even worked a lumber camp in Alaska and she’d always make a crack about the amount of “wood” she got up there.  She loved to tell about the time she had waited on the Governor of California.

“Of course that was in my younger days when men were always making a play for me.  I mean I look good now, but you should’ve seen me 15 years ago baby!”  She’d shake her head for a minute as if to erase that old memory of herself and then continue, “Well I was the best so of course I was assigned to the VIP room.  When I bent across the table to serve the Salisbury Steak that California governor smacked me right on my rear end.  Well just as fast as that S.O.B. slapped my bottom doncha know I turned around twice as fast and slapped his face.”  “I told him, ‘I don’t care if you’re the King of Sabu – nobody touches me without my permission!’”

One of the regular truckers interrupted her story to say, “Service sure is slow today Mabel!  Think you could speed it up a bit?” as he twirled his empty coffee cup in the air like a cowboy’s six shooter.  Mabel made a face at him, grabbed the coffee pot and as she strolled toward him answered with, “I ain’t slow and I ain’t fast Shorty.  I’m half fast!”

As his fellow truckers at the table  got her joke they chuckled at her remark and as she refilled all of their cups, Shorty nodded at her and said, “Well you sure got that right!”  Then they all busted up laughing, even Mabel, who turned her back on the table and said in a low voice to Nelda standing at the counter, “Needle dick the bug fucker!  And you know I know.”  Both women smiled at that, though Nelda just kept rolling silverware and shaking her head.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Brilliant Career


                                        Hard Knocks U

Indeed, the Pixie Pancake Truck Stop furthered my education though often the schooling was of a more lurid variety.  As it turned out, my three main professors in the School of Hard Knocks were three career truck stop waitresses, Pauline, Mabel and most of all, head waitress, Nelda Brown.

Pauline scared me a little because she was just so angry all the time.  She just had a stub for her right arm with three pudgy fingers where her elbow should be and I thought maybe that’s what made her so proud and mean.  She dyed her hair a harsh bluish black and she penciled in her eyebrows with a black Maybelline pencil in straight lines above her burning dark eyes.  She wore bright red lipstick which made her thin lips look like a straight red line dissecting the lower half of her face. 

She never smiled but she could balance 5 to 6 plates on that stubby appendage all the way up to her shoulder and she could serve a table faster than anybody. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My Brilliant Career

                                                       A Plate Is Broken

Daddy believed in hard work and in the way it could shape your character, so on my 12th birthday he broke my plate.

“You’re old enough to help out around here now,” he explained as I picked up the shards of broken plate, while my Mom admonished him for using one of her “good” plates that matched instead of an old everyday mismatched plate for his ritual.

“Naw!” he insisted, “It has to be part of the set so she knows I mean it.  You don’t get your plate filled for free no more!”  Mama handed me the broom while muttering under her breath about finding that same plate in the next box of Duz laundry soap.

He went on to say, “Women only go to college to get their MRS degree.  That’s what all your girlfriends are planning on doing.  Getting to college and catching some doctor or lawyer and get set up for life!  That ain’t for you!  You will be like me and your Ma and go to the School of Hard Knocks.”  His speech was interrupted momentarily with a snort of sorts from Mama so that glaring at her he then went on, “The only degree you gonna get is a degree in Life and it will serve you better than four years of book learning.”

Before I could protest, he smiled broadly and added, “So I got you a job waitressing at the Pixie Pancake Truck Stop off I-70 there.  You start tomorrow.  Dollar ten an hour plus tips.  Once you get your first paycheck you can start paying 80 dollars a month room and board.  Then maybe we’ll buy you another plate,” he added with a wink.

The next day when he dropped me off in the parking lot at the Pixie my stomach was full of butterflies and my legs felt like jelly.  As I headed toward the door I reminded myself that I was a Hill and Hills are from hardy stock.  My voice only squeaked a little when I introduced myself to the Manager, Mr. Skank.  His name did not bode well for my future career.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Brother, Cyclone, the Basketball Star

                                  My Brother, Cyclone, the Basketball Star

I felt like a star at a very young age.  When I was two, my brother Lowell was a senior in high school and the star of the basketball team.  He was so fast and amazing on the court they began to call him Cyclone – Cyclone Hill.  He was leading the Burlingame Bearcats to State Championship and with each game they played, more and more college scouts showed up to see him in action.  He was a star and just being his sister made me a star too.

The cheerleaders made me their mascot and made me my own little purple and white cheerleader uniform to match their own.  They even gave me my own little purple and white pompoms.  Right before the half time buzzer was about to go off they’d have me toddle out on to the court with them to hype up the crowd so they’d stay for the half time show.  The show usually included a longer, bigger more special cheer with a pyramid or something by the cheerleaders, followed by an act like a baton twirler, a magician, the Sweet Adelines or a barber shop quartet, sometimes a new number by the High School band.  But no matter what else there was at half time, there was always – ALWAYS a Cake Walk and I always got to pull the winning numbers while my brother held me up.

For a small fee folks bought chances to walk in the circular Cake Walk until the music stopped and they landed on a number.  They'd win if they landed on a number in the circle that was attached to one of the homemade cakes  The team’s mothers made cakes from their best recipes in hope of raising money to get new uniforms for the team's trip to State.  After the act of the week, the signal that the cake walk was about to begin, was my brother appearing in the doorway of the locker room, a towel hanging around his neck.
Next, my brother Cyclone would come running out of the locker room to HUGE applause, running a lap to take in the cheers of the crowd.  When he reached the huddle of cheerleaders he'd take the damp towel from his neck and snap it towards one of the girl's behinds. But instead he'd snap it into the air, twirling it like a lasso over his head and finally throw it into the clamoring crowd.  Then he’d scoop me up in his arms from the sidelines where I was waiting and continue to circle the gym floor.  I’d stiffen my body the way he’d taught me as he held me by my feet so he could carry me like a torch around the court.  When he signaled, I’d roll my body into a tight ball really fast and he’d catch me just before I hit the floor, which always got a huge gasp from the spectators.  Then he’d throw me so high into the air and catch me again just in time for us to arrive at the big bowl of numbers for the Cake Walk winners.  I’d reach in for a number, hand it to Lowell – I mean Cyclone, and he’d read it aloud with me on his hip. 
I was very little but to this very day I can remember vividly how I loved the way the crowd cheered and I learned quickly what they wanted and I gave it to them in spades. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Thanksgiving Memory

A Thanksgiving Memory

As the youngest in my family and the only daughter, I didn’t always know the family history or the many years of experiences and emotion that led up to certain events.  But even when I was quite young I did understand the atmosphere the past created.  My naturally curious nature made me always want to know more and eventually I became the family story keeper.

From the earliest that I can remember, every weekend my Daddy’s maiden sister, my Aunt Gladys, came from Topeka on the Friday night bus, stayed the weekend and left late Sunday afternoon.  Aunt Gladys worked all week as a librarian so this was her time off, far away from the demands of the Dewey Decimal system.  Mama still did all the cooking and baking plus the other household chores while Aunt Gladys sat with Daddy in the living room on a straight back wooden chair.

Mama never said anything though she would mumble under her breath just out of earshot on occasion.  I also began to notice that when the big Sunday dinner was almost done and Mama would bring to the table whatever delicious dessert she’d baked that morning, Aunt Gladys would always put her hand to her throat and say, “Oh dear!  That looks too rich for me!”  Mama’s mouth would form a straight line, the serving knife would bang against the plate hard and she’d let out a big huff of a sign, but still say nothing. 

Usually nobody said anything at this point.  Everybody just helped themselves to the dessert and tried to fill their mouths with food instead of words.  Unless my brother Richard was at the table that is.  It had to be Richard because Lowell never had much to say on Sunday as he was often still recovering from Saturday night.  “Getting over the night before?” as my Dad would ride him when he sat down, elbows on the table holding his head in his hands. 

But Richard had a way with Mama.  He could get away with saying things to her that if anyone else said the very same thing she would have got steaming mad.  When he said whatever wisecrack he’d come up with to break the tension Mama almost always ended up with a smile.  Sometimes he’d even get her to laugh, then we all could laugh or sometimes provoke her to crack wise right back at him.  When he did that, I could relax and enjoy my dessert.

I was about four years old when I first got just how deep the tension truly was between Mama and Gladys.  It was a Saturday afternoon and we were going into town.  We’d go to the IGA, Pat the Baker’s and maybe I’d even get a dime so I could buy a cherry coke at Denny’s Drugstore.  Mama was brushing my hair and I was fussing because I wanted my hair down and Mama wanted to put it in a ponytail.  Aunt Gladys came through the kitchen and said, “Let your mother put your hair in a ponytail Linda.  It will make your face look rounder.”

“Okay then,” I said giving in.

As she went into the back bedroom to get her purse, Mama started brushing my hair down like I had wanted all along.  When I looked up, Mama bent down and whispered in my ear, “I wouldn’t do anything SHE said to do,” and went back to brushing the tangles out of my hair with great vigor.  I still remember my little girl brain reeling with this new information and thinking, “WHAT! Wow!  Mama doesn’t like Aunt Gladys!”  I also knew that it was a secret not to ever be said out loud.

These kind of weekends went on until that old house burned down when I was 10 years old and we moved to town.  The fire had stirred up lots of entirely different issues and tensions and Aunt Gladys didn’t come quite so often.  When she did come it didn’t seem to bother Mama nearly as much as it once did.  Also life was a bit easier for mama in town since we had running hot and cold water and a bathroom inside which meant much less toting and lifting.  I even had my own room so life was better for everybody.

Years passed and eventually Daddy took a job as a guard at The Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kansas which was much farther from Topeka.  Aunt Gladys still came to visit every few months and of course every Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Our Abilene Thanksgivings fell into a yearly pattern.

Daddy worked the graveyard shift at the Center so he’d get home in the morning right about when Mama was kneading the dough for her famous dinner rolls.  I was living with Mama and Daddy, Richard always came home from Chicago and of course Aunt Gladys would come on the bus from Topeka so we could all celebrate the holiday together.

Daddy always said to go ahead and eat when the dinner was ready because he had to go to bed and he would eat when he got up around 4 or 5 in the afternoon.  Lowell and his family usually had Thanksgiving with his wife Joy’s family, then come to us on the following Saturday.  Every year Thanksgiving went pretty much this way without fail until my 19th birthday.  That was a holiday dinner that will live forever in my memory as the day when years of unspoken anger burst forth in one quick action.

Mama had been up since about 5 a.m. in the morning making her bread rolls, her much loved stuffing, baking 3 kinds of pies, boiling potatoes, basting the bird and letting us help with only a few tasks.  When Mama cooked like this it was so good and she wanted to be sure the praise for that meal was all hers – and rightfully so.

Daddy was sleeping soundly by the time I had set the table with real cloth napkins and a pine cone centerpiece.  Mama put all of the food on the table then pulled the golden bird out of the oven.  Richard was sitting in Daddy’s chair at the head of the table opposite Mama.  I was at Mama’s left across from Aunt Gladys.  My mouth was already watering when Mama said Grace and we were all smiling as she stood to carve the turkey.  We began to pass the rolls as Mama continued to carve when Aunt Gladys asked, “Would you pass the oleo margarine please?”

Before anyone could pass anything however Mama raised the big butcher knife high in the air and plunged it into the breast of the turkey full force and yelled, “Well by God – You’d say butter at anybody else’s house!  You and your uppity ways!  Everybody says butter!  Even when it’s oleo margarine!”  She sat down, her face still stern and said, “Pass the butter please!”

We were all sitting there in stunned silence for a second staring at the butcher knife sticking straight up out of the bird still vibrating a bit from the sheer force that had put it there.  Finally Mama said, “Well!?”  This prompted Richard to pick up the butter dish, pass it to me and then I passed it to Mama who took it and began to fix her plate like nothing had happened.

The three of us sat there looking at Mama who wasn’t looking at us.  Instead she was simply spooning mashed potatoes onto her plate and buttering her roll.  A few more seconds that felt like an eternity passed and we all followed her lead and began to fix our own plates.  Then we ate our Thanksgiving dinner, mostly in silence. Nothing else was said about it.  Daddy got up around 4:30 p.m. and had his turkey dinner.  Later we all said polite goodbyes and shared a few brittle hugs before Daddy drove Aunt Gladys to the bus station.

The next morning Richard slept in, Daddy came home and went to bed while Mama and I sat at the kitchen table having toast and coffee.  The only time the “incident” was referenced at all was when my brother Richard came yawning into the kitchen and Mama asked him, “Do you want some toast son?”

Cutting a mischievous eye at me, he replied in an innocent tone, “Only if I can have oleo margarine on it!”  He did it again!  Mama started chasing him around the house trying to snap his bottom with a wet dish towel for the comment but laughing all the way.  One thing is for sure – we always knew how to put the “fun” in dysfunctional.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ask and Ye SHALL Receive!

Ask and Ye Shall Receive!!

So there I was on the A train headed up to the Harlem Health Center for an appointment.  It was a pretty day outside and sitting there as the train flew uptown my mind began to wander to pretty days back home.  I started thinking about the old fashioned Church Socials we used to have.  Big tables draped & clothed in crisp damask covers brought from the homes of the church ladies and all laden with their best dishes.  Sometimes it was an Ice Cream Social and my mouth began to water thinking about the most delicious homemade ice creams, peach, brown bread and the always in demand vanilla and chocolate.

I arrived at 125th Street and as I walked toward my destination, what should appear to my wondering eyes but the open doors of the Baptist Church there and lo and behold they were having a food sale.  An array of many flavors of homemade cake and best of all, fresh fried fish sandwiches for only $4.00 & the cake was $2.50 a slice.  Well my darlings I had the best fish sandwich that I have had anywhere and at far greater prices in a very long time!  Delicious indeed and as I told the beaming cook - "You stomped all OVER this fish!" and he did too.

Just goes to prove what a little clarity of vision can give us immediately - I am working on sharpening my vision of ultimate good all the more.  I wanted to share this with you so you could try it too!  Make a list of the Top Ten desires that would make your life so much better and be very detailed.  Maybe we will all surprise ourselves! I feel so grateful to the Home Office for an affirmation of faith and for giving me such a Happy Day!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Tips From the Past on Traveling Light

Recently, it was announced that the airlines were considering new and even smaller dimensions for carry on bags.  Anyone who has ever flown knows there is never enough overhead storage for the carry ons and half usually end up being checked "free of charge" just before entering the plane and those passengers really have no other alternative.  I gave up long ago and just check one BIG bag and usually have to pay even more than $25.  But since most of my travel revolves around performing I need my stage costumes.
Here are the new suggested dimensions:

It’s a happy day for luggage manufacturers. The world’s major airlines could soon be changing their requirements for carry-on luggage, potentially forcing people to buy new bags.  

Or we could take some advice from Nellie Bly, (pictured above)  a turn of the century journalist who set out to see if she could go around the world in less time than Phileas Fogg who was the protagonist in the Jules Verne novel, "Around the World in 80 Days."  To do so she knew she would have to travel light to put it mildly.  Although at first the editor and publisher of her paper were convinced she'd have so much baggage, especially because a "lady" must have trunks of clothes and it would detain her and slow her process, but she convinced them she was no ordinary lady and could manage with one bag. Once she got approval from her editor, she headed straight for the dressmaker.   As Nellie herself wrote of her preparations for light travel:
"I went to Ghormley, the fashionable dressmaker, to order a dress.  It was after eleven o'clock in the morning and when I got there, it took but very few moments to tell him what I wanted. I said to him:  'I want a dress by this evening.'
"Very well, " he answered as unconcernedly as if it were an everyday thing for a young woman to order a gown of a few hours notice. 
"I want a dress that will stand constant wear for three months," I added, and then let the responsibility rest on him.  Bringing out several different materials he threw them in artistic folds over a small table studying the effect in a pier glass before which he stood. In a few moments he had selected a plain blue broadcloth and a quiet plaid camel's-hair as the most durable and suitable combination for a traveling gown.  Before I left, probably one o'clock, I had my first fitting.  When I returned at five o'clock for a second fitting, the dress was finished.  I considered this promptness and speed a good omen and quite in keeping with the project.
After leaving Ghormley's I went to a shop and ordered an Scotch ulster overcoat.  Then going to another dressmaker's, I ordered a lighter dress to carry with me to be worn in the land where I would find summer.
I bought one hand-bag with the determination to confine my baggage to its limit.  That night there was nothing to do but write to my few friends a line of farewell and to pack the hand-bag.  Packing that bag was the most difficult undertaking of my life;  there was so much to go into such little space.  I got everything in at last except the extra dress.  Then the question resolved itself into this:  I must either add a parcel to my baggage or go around the world in and with one dress.  I always hated parcels so I sacrificed the dress, but I brought out a last summer's silk bodice and after considerable squeezing managed to crush it into the hand-bag.  My gold I carried in my pocket and the Bank of England notes were placed in a chamois-skin bag which I tied around my neck."

Well folks by traveling so extremely light and playing it by ear as she traveled booking tickets as and when, she beat Fogg's record travel of 80 days by 8, she girdled the globe in 72 Days.  To read her whole story of the trip buy her book, Around the World in 72 Days, by Nellie Bly.  Check out some of her other real life adventures in search of a story!

If you have any suggestions for traveling light please let me know in the comments.  I'll take all the help I can get.