Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Waiting Room

I had a wonderful thing happen the day that I went for my laser surgery. Amazing that in the midst of all the angst about loosing half my eyesight that wonderfulness could happen, but it did. See. I'm taking you back to make up for the things that happened in February that I should have posted if I could.

The torn retina was diagnosed in Brandon and my Opthomologist sent me to Lakeland Regional Hospital eye clinic for the laser process. I called Phyllis McEwen to drive me. If you've had your eyes examined, you know the 10-4 on waiting around with the eye drops to dilate, or numb or both. So. There we were in the waiting room with me dilating away. We were in the waiting room with three middle aged women and one ancient charmer.

Miss Connie was 83 years old, she informed us. Her still dark hair was done up in huge Marcelle waves plastered close to the scalp making her look like Josephine Baker from the 1920s. Phyllis began it all by asking Miss Connie what she liked to do.

"Why, I cook, baby!" Miss Connie said. "But not just cook, I like to fix it up, make it look special, decorate it with apples, celery sprigs, and parsely and radishes!"

"Can you cook greens?" Phyllis asked as culinary explorer and emcee. "I've been craving me some greens. How 'bout sweet potato pie?"

"Absolutely! The secret's in the washin' and the seasonin' and what you use for it." A note here to the Northern Provinces - 'seasoning' in the South when greens are in the same paragraph bespeaks meat and fat - ham hocks, pork butt roast or shoulder, streak-o-lean, bacon.

"I'm hungry for soul food, Southern food. What you gonna cook me?" Phyllis pressed on.

"Well, let's see now. 'Sides greens - and what kind of greens you want, baby - mustard, collards, or turnip?"

"Oh, collards, of course, please ma'am!" Phyllis was really getting us all into this now. We Southerners are truly mindful of our manners and respect for our elders.

"Well, 'sides greens, you got to have you a good old ham baked up right so's the crust is dark brown and crunchy and the insides are just juicy as you carve off the slices."

"Deviled eggs!", chimed in one of our group. "I want some potato salad!" , chirped another.

"Corn bread made in a black iron skillet on the top of the stove before you pour in the batter to make a good crust!", I offered for my contribution.

The third woman added, "Buttermilk biscuits, big and flaky and loaded with real butter!"

"Speaking of butter, how 'bout corn on the cob!"
"Baby limas with some of the ham!"
"Field peas with snaps!"
"Or zipper peas!"
"Fried chicken with a good scald on it!"
"Fried green tomatoes!"
"Fried okra!"
"Fried anything without a commercial telling you it will clog your arteries!"

We were all running with it and laughing. We discussed fried catfish and hush puppies with grits, the merits of sweet potato pie, the perfect pecan pie, and other mouth watering morsels women have been cooking in Southern kitchens for centuries.

I asked Miss Connie how she fried her chicken. She stuck out a bony hand, palm up and said, "It'll cost you, honey." Then she proceeded to tell us how she fixed gator tail, "And you do chicken the same way!"

"I sew. What kind of dress you want, ma'am?", I asked Miss Connie.

"Baby, I want a pink frock that fits with an A-line skirt! And a jacket."

"You want sweetheart pink, or bubble gum pink?", I'm getting my details in order, don't you know.

"A good pink, not pastel or baby, not hot and all neon. A good pink."

A design is emerging. "How long do you want the skirt, mid-calf?"

"Laws, no, honey! I want it to come just to the middle of my knee cap. I got some good legs and I like to show them off!" And she did show off extending a still shapely calf. "And I want pretty work on the cuffs of the jacket."

I designed two more dresses for other women and discovered we had a racy sex goddess sitting with us in the guise of a 50 something housefrau dressed in the most sensible shoes you've ever seen.

We all joined in with comments about shoes, hose, girdles, how we never used to leave the house without a pair of gloves or a hat.

"I wear me some hats! I spray paint them ole straws and glue decorations on them. If it ain't tacky enough, why I just glue on some more stuff until it is. Then I wear it to church." Miss Connie animated all of this in mime and finished with a flourish, hand on hip, a remarkably spry and flirty sashay as she walked down the aisle to her imaginary pew.

Then we continued designing dresses in our minds until we were gotten to continue the process, one by one.

This is a familiar phenomenon I've observed throughout my life: Women get together as strangers in a laundromat, at the doctor's office, the hospital waiting for news of a loved one's surgery, and we talk. We seem to know from some long entrenched gene that we group together and pull the wagons in. The chatter helps entertain us, passes the time, let's us know we're not alone in this Cosmic Cottilion. We usually touch topics that tribe us up - cooking, kids, the drill.

And Phyllis did exactly what she'd set out to do with this ancient custom. She distracted me from the worry I was feeling with a baked ham, fried gator, and a hat.

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