Blog

Averyell Writes

The Ugliest Tree in Town©Averyell A. KesslerMy Mother had a custom of giving me a Christmas book every year. She always dated it and wrote an inscription on the inside cover. Towards the end of her life, she chose Hans Christian Anderson’s The Fir Tree. Here’s what she wrote. “This book proves my theory about Christmas trees. I’m glad we always selected a tree cut down for Christmas, but not chosen. I gave it a shining star.” Her remarks were my inspiration for the following story.I recognized it immediately, a small scrap of a tree, minus a few branches, a host of needles and leaning left as if it had grown sideways on a steep, mud-caked hill. When I came home from school, it was standing in our den, a bleak, second tier companion to the fragrant Avery Garden’s cedar in our living room. But that would change. My mother bought it, as she always did, from the few remaining Christmas trees available at the Belhaven Jitney. She did it every year. I suppose the conversation went something like this.“Are you sure you want this tree, Lady?” the clerk asked. “It’s kinda skimpy. We got better one’s in back.”“No,” Mama replied. “I want this one. It wants me too.”“Load it into your car?” he asked, quite sure he was staring at a loony bird.“Yes. Absolutely.”My mother was a Christmas person. The moment leftover turkey bones were tossed into a bubbling soup pot and our sumptuous pan of cornbread dressing had been scrapped dry, she began. It was as if an internal Santa-like voice shouted in her ear. “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go,go,go.” In an instant, she became a scampering elf, a flying reindeer, and a woman who could put Mrs. Santa Claus to shame.Our annual ugly tree was an important part of Mama’s Christmas tradition. She spent hours decking it with ropes of silver garlands, sparking bubble lights, shiny glass balls, and a flock of red cardinal ornaments, until it glowed like a fairy princess. After a few days, a dose of water in the tree stand made our crippled tree stand upright again, and no one noticed that a few critical branches were missing. As Christmas approached, it was just as merry as the fat cedar in the living room.During her last years, the ugly tree tradition continued, even after she moved into to my home in Fondren. One day, during our morning walk, we found a graceful branch lying by the curb on Oakridge Drive. “That’s it,” Mama said, pointing to a castoff limb waiting for garbage pickup. We took it home, set it in a tree stand, and welcomed a stark, leafless tree limb left for dead. When we’d covered it with white lights, red balls and her traditional flock of cardinals, it became a beautiful addition to our decorations.“How unusual,” my friends mumbled, as they inspected our lovely branch. “I thought it might be a sculpture.” Mama smiled, because she’d done it again.My mother’s ugly tree was an eye opener. Every year, I watched as she searched for an unwanted, bedraggled tree, brought it home and treated it with all the love in the world. Suddenly, a transformation. Our tree wasn’t ugly at all. Loving the unlovable can produce unexpected results.Perhaps the best Christmas gifts are not tangible, but things we experience. Perhaps they are lessons of love that soak into our hearts and remain there, strong aromas of the past that linger in our memories, like fresh cut cedar and gingerbread. They are the echo of long-ago laughter, and absent voices ringing like harness bells. New voices too; the giggles of a two-year-old or a fifth-grade choir singing Away in the Manger. The best gifts wrap us in warm coats of joy, keeping us snug all year long. Perhaps, they even give an unwanted tree a second chance.Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight – Clement Moore

Why I Don’t Eat Mincemeat Pie ©Averyell A. KesslerThanksgiving Day began early at our house. 4:00 AM to be exact. Any later and the turkey wouldn’t be done in time for lunch. An enormous Chambers gas stove stood ready in the kitchen, but it had only one oven and there was no way to cook big bird, dressing, sweet potatoes, vegetables, rolls, and pies all at the same time. Mama called this inconvenient phenomenon, the Thanksgiving Squeeze. The turkey was first priority. Long before dawn, she stumbled out of bed, snapped on a blinding kitchen light, and wrestled a 15-pound Butter Ball out of the fridge. Because she’d previously reaped a whirlwind of disaster by filling an unroasted turkey with uncooked dressing, she chose simplicity, giving our current turkey a Wesson Oil rub down and popping a Vidalia onion or two into the cavity before placing it in the oven. No harm, no foul. (Make that- no harm, no fowl). When I walked into the kitchen, she was already singing “Over the river and through the woods.” Because we lived in Mississippi, there would be no “Horse who knew the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow.”* She sang anyway and the turkey was well on its way to a Norman Rockwell finish.The turkey giblets were reserved in a separate pan, and I stayed as far away as possible. They looked like relics from Dracula’s latest victim and smelled bad. The neck reminded me of the villian in Vincent Price’s famous film, The Tingler. My grandfather, WG, was a big fan of the gizzard, and it took several years of his teasing before I realized that I did not have a gizzard alsoIn the fridge, a “dinner on the grounds” size pan of cornbread dressing waited its turn. Made from an old-time southern recipe provided by an old-time southern lady, it was my favorite. Thankfully, it matched left-over turkey day for day as we stuffed it into sandwiches or ate it cold from the fridge. There were also sweet potatoes (Mama let me put marshmallows on top), butter beans, corn pudding and a newly discovered Mississippi delight, collard greens. The Campbell Soup Company had just announced the green bean casserole and we weren’t into it yet.Back in the glory days, just about everybody in Jackson bought Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. Few ate it. But it was decorative and easy, just open it, slide the contents into a relish tray, and voila, the exact replica of a tin can, a shimmering cranberry colored mini sculpture right in the middle of the table. A few stylish souls sliced it into matching rounds and fanned it out in an artistic display. In texture, it matched the pineapple, lime and cream cheese concealed salad also waiting in the fridge.Best of all, dessert. Our never fail family standards were pumpkin and mincemeat pie served with heavy cream whipped up in the beater. Mama loved mincemeat pie and always made it, if only for herself. The rest of us had been chased away by WG’s unsavory tale of the Pokeberry Bottom mincemeat barrel. He told this story every year, so we knew it was coming. When Mama brought the pies to the table, he folded his napkin, leaned back, and spoke the familiar words, “Did I ever tell you about the time…………..” Mama’s eyes shot darts, but she didn’t say anything. It was useless.“There was an ole country store about a mile away from my house in Pokeberry Bottom,” he said. “They had two big barrels right by the front door. One of’em had dill pickles and the other mincemeat.” “There were screens on the windows, but the front door was wide open,” he continued, “and a lot of flies buzzed around outside. They had a screen lid over the pickle barrel, but the mincemeat didn’t need one……….” he paused to let the full horror sink in. “If one of the flies fell in, they just stirred it up and nobody knew the difference.” As a result, the pumpkin pie disappeared in a flash and my mother ate the only slice of mincemeat pie.A story-telling relative is a blessing, no matter how insufferable. They are as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey and dressing. Even though young people roll their eyes in dismay, storytellers steer us away from the carnage of a rip snorting political argument, petty religious disputes, and whatever conflicts arise when their guys go nose to nose over the whose quarterback throws the best Hail Mary. How else can we discover that Aunt Bertha, long gone to glory, smuggled a silver coffee pot out of Galatoires in a D.H. Holmes shopping bag, or that her husband, Bertram, polished off a bag or Oreo’s and a fifth of Jack Daniel’s every afternoon before sunset. Without them, we would never know why Biloxi Police handcuffed Cousin Hiram after an altercation at Gus Stevens Supper Club. Without them, we wouldn’t remember ancient family recipes, who married who way back when, or the romantic story of great grandpa’s elopement. We might not know what belonged on our Thanksgiving table, what should be forgotten, or why we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. We are richer for their presence. A family story teller is a treasure; listen hard and wish them well. Better yet, hand them a piece of mincemeat pie.*Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child.

Welcome November©Averyell A. KesslerIt’s November in Mississippi. The last remnants of summer are fading fast, and fall is tapping me on the shoulder. I am pleased that the South’s frying pan summer has been scrubbed, rinsed, and placed on a high shelf. The evidence is clear. The sun shines at a different angle, August’s steam bath air is drifting away. The abundant caladiums in my yard are taking a last gasp. My puff ball hydrangeas have dropped their leaves before the first frost arrives. It’s not sweater cold yet, but it’s coming. I have no scientific background or meteorological expertise, so I’ll use neophyte words. Fall is here. I can smell it, touch it, and hear it crackle as I rake up a mound of crisp oak leaves and desiccated pinecones the squirrels have nibbled into nothing. “Get ready,” it says. “Pull out your old blue turtleneck, a pair of thick socks, warm pants, and that pea coat hiding in your closet.”Because of Jackson’s mercurial weather, my midwestern parents had difficulty determining exactly when fall arrived. Even after the Labor Day gong sounded, it was still as hot as a biscuit oven. Things changed without warning. One day, a cool breeze swooped through Belhaven shaking tree limbs and covering the lawn with spiny gum balls. The next day, Mama was happy she hadn’t packed away my sandals and shorts because my hopscotch squares were still pulling me outside. Finally, I learned Mama’s never fail sign that fall had arrived, the appearance of oatmeal on our breakfast table.Goodbye, Sugar Smacks and Frosty O’s. So long, snap, crackle, and pop. Even our humble box of unpretentious Corn Flakes went into temporary hibernation. Hello, rosy cheeked Quaker man with fluffy white hair and a broad black hat. Although Mama did her best, sprinkling on a thick coating of sugar and cinnamon, I considered oatmeal close kin to Elmer’s paste or freshly poured concrete. It was filing, nothing more.It was also a season of change at Power School. The steamy, unairconditioned classrooms were no longer intolerable. Miss Williams moved her heroic oscillating fan into storage, and fourth graders dashed across the playground without working up a sweat. Even the hot, golden rolls in the cafeteria tasted better. I also learned a magical phrase that would be repeated many times. Tommy Edelman said it first, soon after the morning bell rung. “It’s snowing in Vicksburg,” he whispered. “It’ll be here soon.” His words spread around my classroom like a California wildfire.My mouth fell open. “Snow?” I gasped. I looked outside and saw a clear blue sky.“Yeah” he answered. “I heard it on the radio on the way to school.”The classroom erupted in giddy excitement. Miss William wasted a good ten minutes calming us down, carefully explaining that barring a drastic change in the weather, snow was impossible. Even on a crisp November day.I remained hopeful and spent most of the afternoon watching a bright sky from my classroom window. Finally, just before the final bell rang, it happened. A low hanging cluster of grey clouds crept in from the west.“How far is Vicksburg?” I asked Tommy.“Not far,” he smiled. “Told ya.”At 2:30, I dashed away from school and hopped in the front seat of Mama’s turquoise Chevy Bel Air. “It’s snowing in Vicksburg!” I shouted.“It can’t be,” she answered. “It’s not cold enough.”“But look at the sky,” I pleaded.“We’ll watch Bob Neblett tonight and see what he says.” A sensible compromise.After sampling an umm umm good bowl of Seale Lily peach ice cream, Bob shattered my dreams. “Lotsa rain tomorrow folks. Too bad it’s not cold enough to snow.” Mama was relieved; I hung on hopefully and prayed that somehow God would intervene. Granted he’d never transformed a misspelled Anartica into Antarctica or made 8×7 equal 57, but weather seemed to be one of his specialties. Just before dawn, I heard pounding rain. and prepared for a damp day at Power School when we’d have square dancing lessons on the auditorium stage instead of outside games. My head hung low, but I buckled up for a do-si-do and allemande left!Midmorning, a miracle occurred. I saw it coming when Miss Williams stopped talking about the capital of Peru and put on her sweater. The wind fell away and a soft silence replaced the patter of raindrops. Fingers of frigid air touched the windows, glazing them with frost. Something was happening, everyone felt it. We watched mesmerized, as blue grey clouds covered the school like a patchwork quilt. Finally, our teacher said, “If you’ll all be quiet, we’ll move over to the windows. I think it’s snowing.” We were out of our desks in a flash, watching like hypnotized rabbits as tiny snowflakes began to fall, floating like feathers through the tall pine trees bordering out playground. No one spoke. Finally, our wonderful Miss Williams said, “Get your coats from the cloakroom, we’re going outside.It was a magical day. Even though there wasn’t much snow, we whirled and danced. Tommy and his pals managed to toss a few snowballs. I simply held out my hands and let snowflakes touch my fingers. When the clouds parted, the sun came out and our snow day was over in an instant. We returned to our classroom, wet but happy. That day personified autumn in Mississippi, short, sweet, and gone in a flash. It’s a welcome respite from the dregs of summer and a reminder that there really are four seasons, even in the south. It won’t last long, so let’s dance while the dancin’s good, enjoy the crunch, crunch of falling leaves, and celebrate the blessing of crisp, cool air – if only for a moment.

Wandering Witches©Averyell A. KesslerThis week, a good friend reminded me that the evil witch in The Wizard of Oz is terrifying. Just in time for Halloween too. I saw her first on the big screen in downtown Jackson. The Paramount maybe, or the Lamar. She was huge, a monster in a swirling in a black robe with a leering face, ski slope nose, and a pointed chin sharper than a butcher knife. Her flying monkey pals weren’t a pack of cuddly puppies either. Just the thing to help a skittish child sleep peacefully through the night. By that time, I knew a lot about witches, Snow White’s evil queen and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. Good thing I’d never heard of the Witch of Yazoo because she is buried right up the road and is able to break out of her chains without warning.My first Halloween costumes were little girl sweet – a fairy princess in blue taffeta, a ballet dancer in a pink powder puff tutu, and finally a majorette. As I approached double-digit age, a different idea took root. For my friend Martha also. We’d had it was fluff and fairy tale drama and didn’t care a whit about a rescue prince. His horse was neat, but who wants a man who saves the day at the end but won’t help you slug it out at the beginning. We decided that scary was the way to go. Both of us had already gotten a good look at waxy vampire teeth at Morgan and Lindsey, as well as false fingernails that could scratch stars out of the sky. They stocked capes too, as well as pointed black hats and toy brooms. Mama drew the line at green greasepaint. We’d use fingerpaint and lipstick instead.As Halloween approached, another idea popped into our heads, fortified by nonsensical childhood logic. Because our trick or treat route was restricted to short blocks on St. Mary and St. Ann, our treats bags weren’t bulging when we returned home. Yes, we had a lot of goodies, but just think of the possibilities if we ventured farther up the street. Who knew what delights we were missing? Maybe candy apples and homemade taffy was closer than we knew. The solution was simple. Find a way to expand our prospects without telling our parents. What fun! Belhaven was a patchwork quilt of tall trees, wide lawns, and gardens. Evasion was possible.On Halloween night, we left our houses dressed as mini witches with empty treat bags, green faces, and high hopes. In case you’re wondering, green fingerpaint doesn’t taste good, and it can drift into your eyes without encouragement. It’s also hard to shout trick or treat with a mouth full of vampire teeth, but we endured. Everything went well at first as we accumulated Tootsie Roll pops, candy corn, and multiple candy bars.As we ventured farther from home, the night grew still and silent. There were no other children around. We were on our own. Many houses were dark, except for a glowing pumpkin or a wide-eyed scarecrow in the front yard. Did he move? We weren’t sure. Martha and I held hands as we passed swaying ghost trees, their branches dancing in the shadows. Drifting clouds shrouded the moon.“Maybe we should go back,” I whispered.“Just two more houses,” Martha answered. She was older, so I listened.The last house loomed on the top of a hill. In the daylight, it was ordinary family home. At night, it became a witch’s cottage. The front walk was a treacherous strip of uneven concrete interspersed with patches of grass. A red devil, with glowing eyes, and his skeleton companion, sat on the front porch as still as stone. We knew they weren’t real, but ……We rang the doorbell with rapid breath and tingling tummies. A woman in an ancient wedding dress opened the door. Her face was green like ours and a tangle of black beads hung around her neck. Her haystack hair was covered with a lacy mantilla; her eyes were glaring smudge pots. “Welcome children,” she cackled, rubbing her hands together. Martha and I froze. Our feet were glued onto the porch stones. Our mouths hung open. Candy was the least of our worries. Then it happened. The porch skeleton stood up and tapped us on the shoulder. “Happy Halloween,” he hissed. The red devil laughed and waved.Terror is too mild a word to describe my reaction. Martha’s also. Our shrieks punctured Belhaven’s quiet serenity and set the neighborhood dogs into a barking frenzy. We dashed away from the house like Kentucky Derby thoroughbreds and rattled every magnolia leaf on St. Ann. As we flew down the hill, our fathers ran to meet us. Thankfully, they’d been watching the entire time. They gathered us up and took us home. Safe!No one in the neighborhood was happy with the vampire bride or her pals. Other children had shared our panic. We learned later that a group of teenagers created the scenario when their parents were out of town. Apologies were issued, but it was too late. I slept with a night light for over three years because the vampire bride was hiding in my closet. Red devils were waiting for me somewhere, and skeletons lurked around every corner, especially on deep, dark nights when lightening flashed and wind shook my bedroom windows. I never wanted to be a witch again.

,

Mr. HaloweenLong before Freddy Krueger haunted Elm Street and Leatherneck cranked up his chainsaw, another villain lurked in Belhaven. Most of my childhood monsters lived inside story books or in the imagination of Walt Disney’s illustrators. They were not my friends. Accordingly, my eyes widened whenever Rumpelstiltskin taunted the miller’s daughter, or the wicked witch tried to push Hansel into her oven. This myriad of frightening tales was a sure recipe for keeping my closet light on all night. In my opinion, the Brothers Grimm were aptly named.For me, the scariest creature of all did not appear in story books. Mr. Disney didn’t portray him in blazing color; Mama and Diddy never mentioned him at all. Instead, he emerged fully formed in whispered warnings from my friends, as well as my classmates who assured me that he was out there waiting. For what, they did not say. He was called the bogeyman. Nobody knew exactly what he looked like.Until………I was spending the night with my friend Helen. We were in the second grade. After endless games of Chinese checkers, lots of giggles, and slices of gooey strawberry pie, we were sent to bed. Soon the house was pitch black, and quiet as a country graveyard. We lay in bed talking in whispers, as a freight train passed the behind her house and rattled away into the darkness. Then silence. When heard a twig snap outside our window, sleep galloped away on a fast horse.“I wonder if it’s him?” Helen asked.“Who?” I said.“You know, the bogeyman,” she answered. “What if he jumped off the train.” I was well aware of the bogeyman’s stealth and cunning, as well as his ability to steal children during the middle of the night. We both sat bolt upright, there was nothing between us and the bogeyman except a thin window screen. Helen pulled back her curtain and peered into the backyard. It was deserted, but the soft night wind was blowing harder now, whipping up a storm.“I betcha he’s out there,” Helen said. “He wears a black cape and hat pulled down low, so you can’t see his eyes. His face is green too.”“You saw him?” I asked. My heart thundered.“No, my brother, Champ, told me.”We saw lightening flash in the distance. No rain, not yet, but a tall pine tree was swaying and sending down a shower of broken cones. I pulled a blanket over my shoulders, so I’d be safe.“What’ll we do if he comes?” I asked.“I don’t know,” Helen replied.Lightening flashed again. This time we saw him, a monstrous figure loping across the yard like the Billy Goat Gruff’s wicked troll. We screamed. The creature ran to our window, growling and raking its fingers across the screen.“I’m gonna get you,” it hissed “Grrrrr.”We screamed again.“I’m gonna take you awaaaaaay.”Our shrieks split the night apart. Helen’s father dashed into the room. He was barely awake, a semi-conscious man in baggy striped pajamas.“The bogeyman!” we both yelled. “He came to the window.”“There’s no such thing as the bogeyman,” her father said.“But I saw him.” Helen insisted. “He had huge red lips and fangs,” Long white fangs!”“Fangs?” her father asked. “Red lips?”“Yes,” Helen panted. “And a big brown hat.”“Stay here. I’m going outside. Don’t move.”We watched, frozen with fear, as he opened the back-porch door, pick up a rake, and stepped outside. Our noses were an inch from the window screen. First, he searched the azaleas bordering the patio, then the boxwood hedge outside of our window. Nothing. Finally, he drew the rake under a large camellia in the middle of the yard.“Ouch, that hurt!” We heard a familiar voice.“Come out,” Helen’s father yelled. “Now!”Slowly, Champ crawled out, a deflated figure in a superman cape and his father’s best hat. His lips were smeared with paint the town red; his face covered with green finger paint. His father yelled for a good five minutes, using words I didn’t know. Then, Champ coughed out a pair of plastic monster fangs. I couldn’t hear everything Helen’s father said, except “You’re grounded for six weeks, six long weeks.”Champ teeth were locked in a death grip when he apologized. But he had no choice. He was a slimy green mess and covered with pine needles, so that he resembled a deranged porcupine. He’d also ruined his father’s best hat. I’m sure the worst punishment was listening to Helen and me giggle as he said, “Sorry Sis.” Before he shuffled off to the shower, he looked over his shoulder and said. “That train comes by every night, ya know. Better watch out.”

Flying High©Averyell A. KesslerI was six when I walked through the gates of the Mississippi State Fair for the first time. It was late afternoon, close to sunset, and the October air was still warm enough raise a sweat. Mama held my hand in a death grip as we entered a sawdust covered, make-believe world of whirling colors and startling sounds. Delectable aromas filled the air, hamburgers sizzling on the Moose Lodge’s massive grills, roasting peanuts, candied apples, and the sugar sweet smell of spinning cotton candy. Pink, for me. My first pick was Taffy. Mama and I tried making taffy at home and produced a slimy, tasteless mess. But here it was, the real thing, fluffy and shiny white being stretched and pulled on revolving mechanical arms. I had a loose tooth, maybe two, but I’d mastered the art of chewing selectively. We bought a bagful from a man behind the counter who promised “Can’t get it anywhere else!”I didn’t notice that the carnival tents were worn and faded, or that everything was covered with dust. Yes, the man running the “pick up ducks” booth was missing a few teeth, and the woman beckoning me to toss rings over a flock of coke bottles looked like the Wicked Witch of the West, but I didn’t care. This was wonderland, and I was dancing in the middle of it. Mama and I walked the length of the fairgrounds, listening to people scream as the tilt-a-whirl spun them into stomach churning dizziness. We watched an enormous Ferris wheel turn loop after loop, saw a throng of bumper cars honk and spin, and led each other through a glasshouse maze. We bought pronto pups, slathered them with mustard and nibbled away as we wandered through the canning exhibit, inspected a display of homemade quilts, and looked at baby lambs nuzzling their mothers. The motorcycle racetrack was a frightening tower of howling engines, strangling smoke and a screaming announcer. Mama squeezed my fingers as we stepped around it.After spending too much money on a miniature firetruck ride and a jaw rattling children’s roller coaster, Mama made a command decision.“We’ve been here for hours and it’s starting to get dark,” she said. “Time to go home.”“Noooo,” I whined. “I don’t want to go home yet.” I was bone tired. Pronto Pup nausea bubbled in my stomach, but I didn’t tell. “You said I could ride the merry go round.”“Ok,” she said, But it’s last thing. We’ll go home after the merry go round. Agreed?” She was an expert in the art of little kid diplomacy.“Yes.” It was an easy promise. “Grown-ups can ride too.” I said.“Sometimes,” she answered.As the sun slipped below the horizon, we abandoned the kiddie rides and strolled deep into the middle of the fairgrounds. Long shadows inched over the walkways as the sky darkened and day became night. In an instant, hundreds of colored lights blinked on, banishing the tattered canvas tents, tawdry game booths, and chasing the dust away. I felt as if I was standing inside a Christmas tree, and King Carousel was just ahead. We kept walking.I heard the merry go round before I saw it. I felt it too. A raucous melody blasted from a steam powered calliope, along with the rhythmic crash of cymbals and the brrrrrrrrr of snare drums. There it was, right in front of me, a bejeweled carousel crowned with a blaze of lights and herd of painted horses. Mama stepped up to the ticket booth and opened her purse. When she turned, I saw that she had a ticket for each of us.“You’re going too?” I asked. I was breathless.“Yes,” she replied. “Why not.”We selected two magnificent white horses and climbed on. Each had a flowing mane, brightly painted saddle, and a feathery plume mounted on its bridle. Golden tassels dangled from the reins. I could almost hear them nicker, as if they were just waiting for us. When the music started, we began to move, slowly at first, then faster as my horse galloped up and down on a shiny brass pole. Soon, I was flying, soaring in mid-air, climbing to the sky. Mama waved and I waved back. Somehow our horses were able to lift all four hooves off the ground at once, as we raced to Egypt, China, and Neverland. I was riding the wind, going nowhere and everywhere, crossing the Mississippi, then passing the big rock candy mountain and turning north to Santa’s domain. Faster, faster. Snare drums buzzed and the bass drum boomed. Faces in the crowd were a blur, the shining lights melted into streaks of color. I held on tight, hoping the ride would last forever. But it did not.In a flash, my splendid carousel ground to a halt, the drums slowed, and the calliope wheezed into silence. My wooden Pegasus folded his wings, and the magic brass pole stopped the rhythm of its rise and fall. Watchful carneys swarmed on board like a colony of busy ants and shooed us back into the crowd. My balloon popped; the sky fell. It was over.The night was seriously dark now. When Mama looked at her watch, I knew my days were numbered. Nothing to look forward to but a foaming bathtub, clean pajamas and a fateful meeting with a hair dryer.“Did you enjoy it?” she asked, as we walked away.“Yes,” I answered. “It was fun.”“I haven’t ridden a merry go round since I was your age,” Mama said. Suddenly she stopped and looked at her watch again.“Let’s do it again,” she said turning around. “I forgot how wonderful it was.”

Flying High©Averyell A. KesslerI was six when I walked through the gates of the Mississippi State Fair for the first time. It was late afternoon, close to sunset, and the October air was still warm enough raise a sweat. Mama held my hand in a death grip as we entered a sawdust covered, make-believe world of whirling colors and startling sounds. Delectable aromas filled the air, hamburgers sizzling on the Moose Lodge’s massive grills, roasting peanuts, candied apples, and the sugar sweet smell of spinning cotton candy. Pink, for me. My first pick was Taffy. Mama and I tried making taffy at home and produced a slimy, tasteless mess. But here it was, the real thing, fluffy and shiny white being stretched and pulled on revolving mechanical arms. I had a loose tooth, maybe two, but I’d mastered the art of chewing selectively. We bought a bagful from a man behind the counter who promised “Can’t get it anywhere else!”I didn’t notice that the carnival tents were worn and faded, or that everything was covered with dust. Yes, the man running the “pick up ducks” booth was missing a few teeth, and the woman beckoning me to toss rings over a flock of coke bottles looked like the Wicked Witch of the West, but I didn’t care. This was wonderland, and I was dancing in the middle of it. Mama and I walked the length of the fairgrounds, listening to people scream as the tilt-a-whirl spun them into stomach churning dizziness. We watched an enormous Ferris wheel turn loop after loop, saw a throng of bumper cars honk and spin, and led each other through a glasshouse maze. We bought pronto pups, slathered them with mustard and nibbled away as we wandered through the canning exhibit, inspected a display of homemade quilts, and looked at baby lambs nuzzling their mothers. The motorcycle racetrack was a frightening tower of howling engines, strangling smoke and a screaming announcer. Mama squeezed my fingers as we stepped around it.After spending too much money on a miniature firetruck ride and a jaw rattling children’s roller coaster, Mama made a command decision.“We’ve been here for hours and it’s starting to get dark,” she said. “Time to go home.”“Noooo,” I whined. “I don’t want to go home yet.” I was bone tired. Pronto Pup nausea bubbled in my stomach, but I didn’t tell. “You said I could ride the merry go round.”“Ok,” she said, But it’s last thing. We’ll go home after the merry go round. Agreed?” She was an expert in the art of little kid diplomacy.“Yes.” It was an easy promise. “Grown-ups can ride too.” I said.“Sometimes,” she answered.As the sun slipped below the horizon, we abandoned the kiddie rides and strolled deep into the middle of the fairgrounds. Long shadows inched over the walkways as the sky darkened and day became night. In an instant, hundreds of colored lights blinked on, banishing the tattered canvas tents, tawdry game booths, and chasing the dust away. I felt as if I was standing inside a Christmas tree, and King Carousel was just ahead. We kept walking.I heard the merry go round before I saw it. I felt it too. A raucous melody blasted from a steam powered calliope, along with the rhythmic crash of cymbals and the brrrrrrrrr of snare drums. There it was, right in front of me, a bejeweled carousel crowned with a blaze of lights and herd of painted horses. Mama stepped up to the ticket booth and opened her purse. When she turned, I saw that she had a ticket for each of us.“You’re going too?” I asked. I was breathless.“Yes,” she replied. “Why not.”We selected two magnificent white horses and climbed on. Each had a flowing mane, brightly painted saddle, and a feathery plume mounted on its bridle. Golden tassels dangled from the reins. I could almost hear them nicker, as if they were just waiting for us. When the music started, we began to move, slowly at first, then faster as my horse galloped up and down on a shiny brass pole. Soon, I was flying, soaring in mid-air, climbing to the sky. Mama waved and I waved back. Somehow our horses were able to lift all four hooves off the ground at once, as we raced to Egypt, China, and Neverland. I was riding the wind, going nowhere and everywhere, crossing the Mississippi, then passing the big rock candy mountain and turning north to Santa’s domain. Faster, faster. Snare drums buzzed and the bass drum boomed. Faces in the crowd were a blur, the shining lights melted into streaks of color. I held on tight, hoping the ride would last forever. But it did not.In a flash, my splendid carousel ground to a halt, the drums slowed, and the calliope wheezed into silence. My wooden Pegasus folded his wings, and the magic brass pole stopped the rhythm of its rise and fall. Watchful carneys swarmed on board like a colony of busy ants and shooed us back into the crowd. My balloon popped; the sky fell. It was over.The night was seriously dark now. When Mama looked at her watch, I knew my days were numbered. Nothing to look forward to but a foaming bathtub, clean pajamas and a fateful meeting with a hair dryer.“Did you enjoy it?” she asked, as we walked away.“Yes,” I answered. “It was fun.”“I haven’t ridden a merry go round since I was your age,” Mama said. Suddenly she stopped and looked at her watch again.“Let’s do it again,” she said turning around. “I forgot how wonderful it was.”

Flying High©Averyell A. KesslerI was six when I walked through the gates of the Mississippi State Fair for the first time. It was late afternoon, close to sunset, and the October air was still warm enough raise a sweat. Mama held my hand in a death grip as we entered a sawdust covered, make-believe world of whirling colors and startling sounds. Delectable aromas filled the air, hamburgers sizzling on the Moose Lodge’s massive grills, roasting peanuts, candied apples, and the sugar sweet smell of spinning cotton candy. Pink, for me. My first pick was Taffy. Mama and I tried making taffy at home and produced a slimy, tasteless mess. But here it was, the real thing, fluffy and shiny white being stretched and pulled on revolving mechanical arms. I had a loose tooth, maybe two, but I’d mastered the art of chewing selectively. We bought a bagful from a man behind the counter who promised “Can’t get it anywhere else!”I didn’t notice that the carnival tents were worn and faded, or that everything was covered with dust. Yes, the man running the “pick up ducks” booth was missing a few teeth, and the woman beckoning me to toss rings over a flock of coke bottles looked like the Wicked Witch of the West, but I didn’t care. This was wonderland, and I was dancing in the middle of it. Mama and I walked the length of the fairgrounds, listening to people scream as the tilt-a-whirl spun them into stomach churning dizziness. We watched an enormous Ferris wheel turn loop after loop, saw a throng of bumper cars honk and spin, and led each other through a glasshouse maze. We bought pronto pups, slathered them with mustard and nibbled away as we wandered through the canning exhibit, inspected a display of homemade quilts, and looked at baby lambs nuzzling their mothers. The motorcycle racetrack was a frightening tower of howling engines, strangling smoke and a screaming announcer. Mama squeezed my fingers as we stepped around it.After spending too much money on a miniature firetruck ride and a jaw rattling children’s roller coaster, Mama made a command decision.“We’ve been here for hours and it’s starting to get dark,” she said. “Time to go home.”“Noooo,” I whined. “I don’t want to go home yet.” I was bone tired. Pronto Pup nausea bubbled in my stomach, but I didn’t tell. “You said I could ride the merry go round.”“Ok,” she said, But it’s last thing. We’ll go home after the merry go round. Agreed?” She was an expert in the art of little kid diplomacy.“Yes.” It was an easy promise. “Grown-ups can ride too.” I said.“Sometimes,” she answered.As the sun slipped below the horizon, we abandoned the kiddie rides and strolled deep into the middle of the fairgrounds. Long shadows inched over the walkways as the sky darkened and day became night. In an instant, hundreds of colored lights blinked on, banishing the tattered canvas tents, tawdry game booths, and chasing the dust away. I felt as if I was standing inside a Christmas tree, and King Carousel was just ahead. We kept walking.I heard the merry go round before I saw it. I felt it too. A raucous melody blasted from a steam powered calliope, along with the rhythmic crash of cymbals and the brrrrrrrrr of snare drums. There it was, right in front of me, a bejeweled carousel crowned with a blaze of lights and herd of painted horses. Mama stepped up to the ticket booth and opened her purse. When she turned, I saw that she had a ticket for each of us.“You’re going too?” I asked. I was breathless.“Yes,” she replied. “Why not.”We selected two magnificent white horses and climbed on. Each had a flowing mane, brightly painted saddle, and a feathery plume mounted on its bridle. Golden tassels dangled from the reins. I could almost hear them nicker, as if they were just waiting for us. When the music started, we began to move, slowly at first, then faster as my horse galloped up and down on a shiny brass pole. Soon, I was flying, soaring in mid-air, climbing to the sky. Mama waved and I waved back. Somehow our horses were able to lift all four hooves off the ground at once, as we raced to Egypt, China, and Neverland. I was riding the wind, going nowhere and everywhere, crossing the Mississippi, then passing the big rock candy mountain and turning north to Santa’s domain. Faster, faster. Snare drums buzzed and the bass drum boomed. Faces in the crowd were a blur, the shining lights melted into streaks of color. I held on tight, hoping the ride would last forever. But it did not.In a flash, my splendid carousel ground to a halt, the drums slowed, and the calliope wheezed into silence. My wooden Pegasus folded his wings, and the magic brass pole stopped the rhythm of its rise and fall. Watchful carneys swarmed on board like a colony of busy ants and shooed us back into the crowd. My balloon popped; the sky fell. It was over.The night was seriously dark now. When Mama looked at her watch, I knew my days were numbered. Nothing to look forward to but a foaming bathtub, clean pajamas and a fateful meeting with a hair dryer.“Did you enjoy it?” she asked, as we walked away.“Yes,” I answered. “It was fun.”“I haven’t ridden a merry go round since I was your age,” Mama said. Suddenly she stopped and looked at her watch again.“Let’s do it again,” she said turning around. “I forgot how wonderful it was.”

Flying High©Averyell A. KesslerI was six when I walked through the gates of the Mississippi State Fair for the first time. It was late afternoon, close to sunset, and the October air was still warm enough raise a sweat. Mama held my hand in a death grip as we entered a sawdust covered, make-believe world of whirling colors and startling sounds. Delectable aromas filled the air, hamburgers sizzling on the Moose Lodge’s massive grills, roasting peanuts, candied apples, and the sugar sweet smell of spinning cotton candy. Pink, for me. My first pick was Taffy. Mama and I tried making taffy at home and produced a slimy, tasteless mess. But here it was, the real thing, fluffy and shiny white being stretched and pulled on revolving mechanical arms. I had a loose tooth, maybe two, but I’d mastered the art of chewing selectively. We bought a bagful from a man behind the counter who promised “Can’t get it anywhere else!”I didn’t notice that the carnival tents were worn and faded, or that everything was covered with dust. Yes, the man running the “pick up ducks” booth was missing a few teeth, and the woman beckoning me to toss rings over a flock of coke bottles looked like the Wicked Witch of the West, but I didn’t care. This was wonderland, and I was dancing in the middle of it. Mama and I walked the length of the fairgrounds, listening to people scream as the tilt-a-whirl spun them into stomach churning dizziness. We watched an enormous Ferris wheel turn loop after loop, saw a throng of bumper cars honk and spin, and led each other through a glasshouse maze. We bought pronto pups, slathered them with mustard and nibbled away as we wandered through the canning exhibit, inspected a display of homemade quilts, and looked at baby lambs nuzzling their mothers. The motorcycle racetrack was a frightening tower of howling engines, strangling smoke and a screaming announcer. Mama squeezed my fingers as we stepped around it.After spending too much money on a miniature firetruck ride and a jaw rattling children’s roller coaster, Mama made a command decision.“We’ve been here for hours and it’s starting to get dark,” she said. “Time to go home.”“Noooo,” I whined. “I don’t want to go home yet.” I was bone tired. Pronto Pup nausea bubbled in my stomach, but I didn’t tell. “You said I could ride the merry go round.”“Ok,” she said, But it’s last thing. We’ll go home after the merry go round. Agreed?” She was an expert in the art of little kid diplomacy.“Yes.” It was an easy promise. “Grown-ups can ride too.” I said.“Sometimes,” she answered.As the sun slipped below the horizon, we abandoned the kiddie rides and strolled deep into the middle of the fairgrounds. Long shadows inched over the walkways as the sky darkened and day became night. In an instant, hundreds of colored lights blinked on, banishing the tattered canvas tents, tawdry game booths, and chasing the dust away. I felt as if I was standing inside a Christmas tree, and King Carousel was just ahead. We kept walking.I heard the merry go round before I saw it. I felt it too. A raucous melody blasted from a steam powered calliope, along with the rhythmic crash of cymbals and the brrrrrrrrr of snare drums. There it was, right in front of me, a bejeweled carousel crowned with a blaze of lights and herd of painted horses. Mama stepped up to the ticket booth and opened her purse. When she turned, I saw that she had a ticket for each of us.“You’re going too?” I asked. I was breathless.“Yes,” she replied. “Why not.”We selected two magnificent white horses and climbed on. Each had a flowing mane, brightly painted saddle, and a feathery plume mounted on its bridle. Golden tassels dangled from the reins. I could almost hear them nicker, as if they were just waiting for us. When the music started, we began to move, slowly at first, then faster as my horse galloped up and down on a shiny brass pole. Soon, I was flying, soaring in mid-air, climbing to the sky. Mama waved and I waved back. Somehow our horses were able to lift all four hooves off the ground at once, as we raced to Egypt, China, and Neverland. I was riding the wind, going nowhere and everywhere, crossing the Mississippi, then passing the big rock candy mountain and turning north to Santa’s domain. Faster, faster. Snare drums buzzed and the bass drum boomed. Faces in the crowd were a blur, the shining lights melted into streaks of color. I held on tight, hoping the ride would last forever. But it did not.In a flash, my splendid carousel ground to a halt, the drums slowed, and the calliope wheezed into silence. My wooden Pegasus folded his wings, and the magic brass pole stopped the rhythm of its rise and fall. Watchful carneys swarmed on board like a colony of busy ants and shooed us back into the crowd. My balloon popped; the sky fell. It was over.The night was seriously dark now. When Mama looked at her watch, I knew my days were numbered. Nothing to look forward to but a foaming bathtub, clean pajamas and a fateful meeting with a hair dryer.“Did you enjoy it?” she asked, as we walked away.“Yes,” I answered. “It was fun.”“I haven’t ridden a merry go round since I was your age,” Mama said. Suddenly she stopped and looked at her watch again.“Let’s do it again,” she said turning around. “I forgot how wonderful it was.”

Shake, Rattle and Roll©Averyell A. KesslerThe sky was still December dark when my alarm clock rattled loud enough to shake teeth out of a corpse. Daylight was a long way off but I had an early class in Allen Hall, an ancient building facing the quadrangle at LSU. I rolled out of bed, stepping quietly to avoid waking my roommate and padded downstairs to the kitchen of my sorority house searching for coffee. When I entered the kitchen, our cook, Alma, was crying. She was an interesting lady and music lover who’d won a skinny legs contest at a Jimmy Hendrix/ Joe Tex concert.“What’s wrong,” I asked.“The king is dead,” Alma sniveled, dabbling her eyes with a tissue.“Elvis?”“Otis Redding,” she answered. “Plane crash last night.”“Oh, no,” I said. “His music is great.” We spent thirty minutes drinking coffee and talking about These Arms of Mine and Try a Little Tenderness.I remembered Otis this week when a strange item popped up on my laptop. It read “Wondering why young people are so angry these days? It’s because their music is $%#%!” Many folks don’t agree, but old time rock and roll still soothes my soul. Our music magic began with a revolution organized by Elvis and Buddy Holly, blessed by the doo-wop guys, and honed to a fine art by Mick Jagger, The Beach Boys, and James Brown. If you want to talk country music, I’ll toss in Charlie Pride’s Kiss an Angel Good Morning and Patsy Cline Walkin’ after Midnight.My music addiction started early when I realized something new was bubbling on the horizon. Big band swing and The Hit Parade were fading because no one cared what was behind The Green Door, or how much That Doggy in the Window cost. Daddy had already refused to listen the Rock Around the Clock, and snapped off Elvis singing Hound Dog on The Ed Sullivan Show. Even though Ed had only shown the upper half of Elvis’ body, rumors of his undulating hips caused community outrage. Suddenly, Joey Dee and the Starlighters burst into view with the Peppermint Twist. Anyone who’d hula hooped in childhood intuitively knew how to twist. Chubby Checker had a hand in it too – Come on baby, let’s do the twist. This was the ideal ice breaker for young teenagers wading into the frightening waters of a boy/girl parties. It was a perfect sing-along, required no body contact, and wore us out in short order – a chaperone’s dream come true. I made a short -lived effort to teach my mother the twist, but she was accustomed to Glen Miller’s big band and never got the hang of it.Then Murrah High School – a joyous mix of blossoming hormones, semi adulthood, the prom, and a sweaty cheek slow dance. We were lulled into romance by Ray Charles, I Can’t Stop Loving You, Percy Sledge crooning When a Man Loves Woman, and the ultimate snuggle up song, Nat King Coles’ When I fall in Love. Whew! If things got too intense, Hey You Get Off My Cloud or Wooly Bully took over. Somehow, we survived.I attended college in South Carolina for one desperate year, just long enough to hear the mellow sound of The Platters, learn to dance the shag, and sing With This Ring in the shower. Although I Can’t Get No Satisfaction was not popular at a women’s college, the Everly Brothers’ When will I Be Loved was well received. The only high point was our Christmas concert and dance when the scheduled performer canceled and the college was forced to hire an unknown substitute. Her name was Dionne Warwick.The next year I arrived at LSU. Party time! I discovered several college hangouts within 5 minutes of campus, all spotlight attractions making it hard to study for exams, compose term papers or arrive bright eyed for a 7:30 AM Botany class on Saturday morning. I learned that fancy heels don’t work well with Soul Man and that cutoff overalls (we called them hog washers) were far more fun. Anything by the Supremes was an instant dance event even if I was in my pajamas at midnight. I tried hard to figure out the mystery lyrics to Louie, Louie, but when that failed, I’d tune my radio to a station featuring Brown Eyed Girl and Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher. Somehow, I survived those years too.With little prodding, I’ll say that the music of my generation was terrific. My folks will not be listening to somnolent elevator music in a senior residence or popping Geritol laced Champagne bubbles with Lawrence Welk. We won’t be singing along with Mitch either. We’ll be moving to Honky Tonk Women, Mustang Sally, and listening to Aretha with the volume set to earthquake level. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me. Maybe I’ll work in a little Elton John too because I really like Honky Cat. I know that it is possible to hum Proud Mary, as well as Mr. Redding’s greatest Dock on the Bay. I can still dance The Shag, but I’m a little rusty with the Watusi. Perhaps I’ll summon up Sixty Minute Man and see if I’ve still got it.My story is not unique. Most folks can summon up a list of favorites from their growing up years. But we all know when Billy Joe McAllister met the grim reaper, and how to open up our hearts and Let the Sunshine In. So, I’m making plans. Maybe I’ll borrow a T-Bird, blast the radio and cruise to the Hamburger stand. Perhaps Maybelline will drive up in her Coupe de Ville and take me for a ride. Maybe aliens will land at Graceland and return Elvis. One thing’s for sure, while we live, let us live. Sock it to me and shama lama ding doing.

Loading…

Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.


Follow My Blog

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

%d bloggers like this: