Cowboys in Tuscany

My latest post brought this one to mind. What a great trip that was!

writinghersense

During the summer of 2001, eight of us friends rented a villa outside Panzano, Italy on a working farm.  The owners lived in the other wing of the house and grew grapes and olives.  They also kept a couple of  horses, Oskar and Luna, for riding. Our group enjoyed looking at the rolling hills,  watching the horses graze while we sat on the flagstone terrace as the sun set,  and talking until late at night under the stars.  The villa was our home base for a week while we explored Siena, Florence (Firenze), Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Panzano itself, which had charming restaurants and a renowned shoe-maker.  We also cooked a lot of our meals and went through a ridiculous amount of the local wine.

One day half the group went to San Gimignano to see the sights.  The rest of us decided to have a lazy day at the villa’s pool.  Sally had broken…

View original post 333 more words

Advertisements
Posted in Early Stories | Leave a comment

A Taste of Italian Honey

Do you ever have one of those fits where you have to have something sweet, and there’s nothing in the house?  I try to keep temptation at bay by not buying cookies, candy, ice cream or other treats.  But every once in a while I get desperate, and that means a frantic search through the kitchen for something to satisfy the urge.

A couple of months ago I was rummaging in the cabinet and found a jar of honey which Imonte_oliveto_maggiore had forgotten about.  The label read, “Abbazia Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Monaci Benedettini Olivetani, Miele, Fioritura Prevalente.”  All of a sudden it came back to me.  I bought this jar of honey during a trip to Italy in the summer of 2001.  It had never been opened.  So I opened it and spread some on a piece of bread.  It had darkened a bit, but was not crystallized at all.  I took a bite.

I tasted flowers, and I saw the landscape–rugged, dry, ridges topped with cypress trees.  We were in the “badlands” south of Siena, and I remember feeling we were at a high elevation, even though it wasn’t that high above sea level.  The abbey was completed in the early 16th century, and it is still a monastery to this day.  There were beautiful, richly-colored frescoes which looked as if they had recently been restored.  Despite a few busloads of tourists, the cloisters were peaceful and calm.

A good-natured monk in a white habit was on duty in the gift shop.  They sold a a few things which they produced, like the honey, and I think I remember a few tacky religious souvenirs.    I bought the honey and carried it safely home in my carry-on bag, in those innocent days before 9/11.  When I tasted it 14 years later, I saw wildflowers blowing on those dry ridges and felt the peace of the place again.

Now if I can just stop eating the honey!  Nearly half the jar is gone.  And when it’s gone, the memory may go, too.

Posted in Early Stories | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dog Days of Summer

These hot August days remind me of Chico, the dog we had when I was in college and for several years after.  Chico was a German shepherd mix that I brought home from Knoxville as a tiny puppy.  He lived in a shoe box under my bed in the dorm for a few days, until I

Best friend in college!  Ok, Sallie was too.

Best friend in college! Ok, Sallie was too.

could get him home to the farm.  Despite being so young he didn’t know how to eat food yet, he persevered and grew into a 100-pound dog (with much care from Mother and Daddy).

Although I was away most of the time at school, he seemed to never forget that I was the one who rescued him, and he was devoted to me.  That devotion was tested to the extreme when I tried to get a tan during the summer break.

Tanning was a bad idea from the word go.  I had dark hair, but was very pale and had light hazel eyes, sure signs of a skin cancer magnet.  However, nobody knew about those things back in the day, and every teenage girl had to have a tan.  I would “lay out” on a collapsible chaise lounge on the concrete walkway in front of our house on a hot day, covering myself in SPF8 Coppertone (the highest strength then!) and shaking water on from Mother’s sprinkle bottle to cool off.

Chico was determined to be as close to me as possible, so he would lie in the sun next to my chair, panting.  This made him miserable, so his next move was to get underneath the chair in the small patch of shade.  That made me miserable, having a big, hot dog sweating under the chair, so I made him move.  He retreated to the shade at the side of the house, panting until he cooled down some.  Then the cycle repeated until we were both too hot to bear it, and I went in the air-conditioned house.

To this day, when I hear the drone of cidadas (dry flies, we called them) and the hum of unit air conditioners, I’m carried back to the young, skinny me, resolutely turning pink in pursuit of fashion, and that oversized, black-and-tan German shepherd panting in the sun.  All he ever got out of it besides my company was Nehi Orange, which he learned to drink from the bottle.

Posted in Early Stories | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Name on the Diet Coke Bottle

For the second summer in a row, Coca-Cola is putting first names on bottles and cans of Diet Coke, Coke, the boy’s version of Diet Coke whose name I forget (black label), and that odd one with the green label (anybody remember New Coke?)  I’ve been amused by this ed-cc-sq 750xx900-506-0-26and noticing which names I get when I buy a bottle at my local pizza places.  I have yet to see my name, although shareacoke.com says it is in circulation, so to speak.

Most of the names I’ve seen are very millenial or younger, Ashleys and Justins and Maxes and Courtneys, etc.  But last week I saw one that really surprised me.  Everything old–really old–is new again, and I knew Jesse has been a popular name for a while.  Emma is back, Charlotte is back (as a baby princess), and I’m wondering if George will make a comeback now that little Prince George is on the scene.  The name that stopped me was Preston.

My uncle Preston was my dad’s youngest brother.  If he were living he would be over 90 now.   Uncle Preston didn’t farm, unlike most of his family, but owned a garage and worked as a mechanic.  Back in the day, the men would come and hang out at the garage, smoking cigarettes and drinking Cokes.  They had nicknames for each other and told stories about what they’d done and seen.

Beetle was named after Beetle Bailey because he had been in the Army.  A cousin was called Goat for reasons that weren’t clear to me as a child.  My aunt Eunice’s husband was called Tip.  Several went by their initials, a grand old Southern tradition, so I had cousins known as W. P. and W. C.  I have to look them up in another cousin’s geneaology book to find out what their full names were.

It was at Uncle Preston’s garage that Daddy fell off a truck he was working on, and broke his arm.  In the winter it was a cozy hangout despite its concrete walls and floor and tin roof because the wood-burning stove was always fired up.  Winters could be lonely in the country, so the men were happy to have somewhere they could go and gossip besides the country store.

I can see Uncle Preston now and hear Aunt Mary Emma shrieking out the kitchen door, “PRESTOOOON!  DINNER!”  So, thanks, Coca-Cola, for bringing that memory back!

Posted in Early Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A White Rose on Mother’s Day

I’m sharing this again for Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to all, also remembering the mothers we have lost!

writinghersense

My mother

When I was growing up, Mother’s Day was a big event at the First Baptist Church in Clarksville. Brother Laida always preached about Biblical mothers (with not too much emphasis on Mary, mother of Jesus) and sometimes a segue into Ruth and her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi.

The most interesting thing to me about the church service, however, was that everyone wore a rose or a carnation to church that day. I asked Mother about it when I was
small. “You wear a red rose or carnation if your mother is alive, and a white one if she’s not,” she said. Mother and Daddy each wore a white carnation and I wore a red one, all bought at the grocery store on Saturday. In later years when we lived on the farm Iwore a red rose pinned to my dress from the old-fashioned rosebush that spilled over…

View original post 214 more words

Posted in Early Stories | Leave a comment

Dogwood Winter

The other day I was talking to a young woman in my company’s North Carolina office.  I mentioned something about “redbud winter,” and she had no idea what I meant.  She’s not from North Carolina but settled there after going to college in the state.  So I explainedDSCN0102 about the “winters” that come during spring in the South, and she was enchanted.  I’ll share with my friends in case you don’t know.

I learned from my mother that in the South there are always cold snaps in the spring that coincide with when various trees and bushes bloom.  Redbud winter is the first one, when the redbud trees show their pinkish-purple blossoms.  They look like purple flames by the side of the road or in the underbrush of the woods.  A few weeks later comes dogwood winter, when the dogwoods open their lateral drifts of ivory flowers. They are my favorites, as elegant and spare as a Japanese ink drawing.  The last one is blackberry winter, when the blackberry bushes bloom in late spring.  When you see the blooms, you know there will be a few days of chilly weather.

One of the adjustments I’ve had to make to life in New York is that the whole spring season is very much compressed.  Instead of six to eight weeks, commencing with forsythia and the blooming bulbs, and ending with wisteria and the trees fully leaved, there is a hectic period of about a month.  This year everything was two weeks late due to the late snows we had.  So now the ornamental trees are blooming at the same time as the forsythia and the tulips and buttercups.  The willow trees are leafing.  And the dogwoods have not yet appeared.

Perhaps the cold spell this week will be dogwood winter, and my favorite trees will bloom.  No matter what may go wrong in the world, spring always manages to come somehow.  And the patterns in nature don’t change.  I can imagine my grandmother or great-grandmother looking out the kitchen window at the dogwoods blooming under the taller trees, and saying to herself, “It’ll be cold tomorrow.”

Posted in Early Stories, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How I Learned to Drive, and My Dad

I want to apologize to my faithful followers (you know who you are) for taking such a long hiatus.  It’s been a very long, cold winter, and I just lost the energy to write somehow.  I meant to get this one out in February in memory of my father.  Better late than never, I65-dart-charger suppose.  And now that the snow is receding, maybe my juices will start rising, too.

February is the month when Daddy died, many years ago, not long after I graduated from college.  I think my love of cars comes from him.  He was a good mechanic and worked on all our cars, mostly at my uncle Preston’s garage.  Over the years our cars ranged from a turquoise Studebaker to a pale yellow Dodge Dart with pushbuttons to change gears, and a red Plymouth Sport Fury with bucket seats in between those two.  I also recall a battered station wagon of indeterminate breed at some point, and any number of beat-up old trucks for use on the farm.

Daddy was not a good driving teacher, however.  He tried to teach Mother, long before I was born.  She said he made her nervous, and words were exchanged.  She left the car in a huff, and never learned to drive.  Mother was dependent her whole life on other people to drive her to do errands, buy groceries, or go to church. This was not uncommon in country women of her age, but it surely was an inconvenience and limited her freedom.

I was determined to get my learner’s permit and my license as soon as it was legal for me to drive.  I couldn’t take a driver’s course because I couldn’t get to the classes, since Daddy was at work, Mother couldn’t drive, and I didn’t have a license.  So I got the booklet to study and got ready for the written test on my own.  Once my permit arrived, I was ready to go!

I had a lot of theory about driving, but very little practice other than steering a tractor.  So I asked Daddy to help me practice.  He showed me how to brake and hit the gas.  Then he turned me loose to practice in a field in back of the house.  My brother had abandoned a scarred-up Volkswagen Beetle at our house on the farm at some point, which didn’t have a license plate and was scarcely capable of moving.  So Daddy put some gas in it from a can and left me to practice driving around the field.

Everything went well at first, although I didn’t know how to change gears with a stick shift.  I just went around and around the field in first gear, steering and practicing turn signals.  Then I decided I was bored and wanted to stop for a while, so I hit the brake.  No response!  Granted, the car was going very slow, but it didn’t have any brakes left.  Well, I thought, how long before it runs out of gas?  I knew there wasn’t much left in the tank.

So I went around and around and around until it started slowing down even more.  This was my chance.  I steered it into the back bumper of Daddy’s latest battered truck.  There was a little bump, and then the engine died.  I hopped out and abandoned it.

Daddy never asked me what happened.  And my next practice session was in the yellow Dodge Dart with him.

 

Posted in Early Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment