Author Expo ~Gadsden, Alabama

Put something on the calendar, and I’m sure not to do it. But, isn’t life about stepping out of your comfort zone? Being somewhat reclusive and shy (although those who know me well roll their eyes and mumble just beneath their breath “whatever”) it is often difficult for me to participate in an event where I am expected to be verbally outgoing and open.

Writing it is one thing, doing it another.
The quiet folks know what I mean. You are just so “exposed” when you are right there in front of others….talking.  What I didn’t anticipate from this social engagement was – well, any of what actually took place. Allow me to explain.

This year, Gadsden Public Library hosted the Alabama Library Association Annual Convention. Being a hometown girl, I was graciously extended an invitation. This in itself garnered a smile. But, the idea of an Author Expo which is hosting 32 Alabama authors, companies from across the country -who graciously sponsor the authors -and more than 500 librarians, was enough to make me hesitate and then take two steps back. That is a lot of people! And yet, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that deep down, I absolutely couldn’t wait to attend. After all, I would be surrounded by people like me –writers and readers who eat, breathe and live for a love of words!

 

Arriving early, I had to smirk and acknowledge a blonde moment; I eyed the jam packed parking lots and wondered how many blocks I’d be walking in heels, carrying a heavy box of books. So THAT is why it was so important for my assistant to meet me when I arrived! I noted the city’s kelly green trolley car shuttling folks to and from the event.

 

Gadsden was going all-out and it filled me with a deep sense of pride!

 

This year’s theme for the convention is “Libraries ImPOSSIBLE” and it is improbable that anyone will leave displeased. There are a list of events sure to draw a crowd and delight everyone who attends. For example, the Reception Block Party downtown on Broad Street with live jazz and a performance of Imperial Opa. Tuesday night, out-of-towners joined the regulars for our Literary Pub Crawl where those who gather get to sample the amazing beer at Back 40 Beer Company and discuss a particular literary great before strolling over to Blackstone Pub & Eatery to continue the fun.

 

Then today, Wednesday, filled with bestseller speakers and the Books-A-Million Author Expo at 210 at the Tracks.  I arrive and find the place packed. The vibe is amazing –beautiful bare bulbs sneak down from the blacked-out high ceiling. Music of the Etowah Youth Orchestra fills the air and already I can smell something spicy and….could it be chocolate wafting from the back reception area? Harp & Clover, Gadsden’s newest, trendiest –swankiest even – Irish Pub, located within walking distance over on Court Street, has catered the event. I also notice that folks are meandering about with food in hand; several sipping wine and a few others cold beer. My assistant, Megan, and I introduce ourselves to our sponsor, set up books, arrange seating and head to the reception area to fill a plate and find a table.

 

Neither of us it seems knew exactly what to expect. I’d wondered at the necessity of an assistant but after we sat and caught up on senior life at SHS (my old alma mater as well) a swarm of readers buzzed about, and time began to fly. We would pause, talk, laugh and share stories with these women –some from Alabama, others from across the country -before they moved on to another author; then another swarm would alight. And so flowed the events of the night.

 

I found in collecting my things afterward that, while I was light on books to carry back to the car, I was filled with stories, their stories. I couldn’t help but smile. It was a wonderful thing to have a woman point out something in particular that spoke to her from the memoir and then share with me a story of her own. Other than the Russian from NY and our friendly Spaniard, Tito, who would wander over between signings to discuss culture, tradition, family –most of my readers were women and I was delighted because the book was written for US, after all.

 

Just two cobblestone blocks away, I wrap up my evening with a Guinness at Harp & Clover and chat up my dear friend Dee as he moves back and forth through the establishment, deftly working the crowd. Such an exquisite end to a most enjoyable evening. From now on, all of my pub crawls in Gadsden, Alabama will end right here! I recommend the Dubliner, a burger topped with “house-made bacon jam & Cahill’s whiskey infused cheese” and of course the Bread Pudding.

 

*And, I do believe I’ve just claimed a new place to hide away and write…the little niche in the back corner should do nicely.

Thank you –Amanda Jackson and Carol Roark Wright with Gadsden Public Library, and also Megan Potts, my assistant, for a wonderful evening!
Already I’m looking forward to the next Writer’s Expo in Huntsville and Chattanooga. And, Megan, I’m going to hold you to the agreement to go sight-seeing, history hunting and helping with book sales.

The only way to find –is to seek.
Nothing worth having just happens; you have to go looking for it!

image

 

*****

 

ELIZABETH MOZLEY

We Share the Same Sky, a memoir

https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethmcgrady

Join me and other Birmingham Bloggers! http://www.bhambloggers.com/

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Wandering around Manhattan & pondering growing up in the South~

An Excerpt from Chapter 2, WE SHARE THE SAME SKY

 

Who would think that wandering aimlessly throughout Midtown

could be calming? It is not quiet, it is not serene. Perhaps it is a

melding with the constant movement of the masses that is tranceinducing.

Whatever it is, I find it odd and pleasant. But, why

question what works?

 

Rizzoli Bookstore catches my eye. Here I am in the city at last,

and I can’t shake the habitual need of a good book and a place to

crash. Rizzoli’s is the quintessential bookstore. Built-in oak bookshelves

run from floor to ceiling in the three storied space. The open

staircase and rooms are lit with chandeliers, although the interior

is flooded with natural light from windows that make up the entire

front facade. I would shop here for no other reason than to take

pleasure in the sheer beauty of the place.

 

I browse the children’s section and try to find a gift for the kids.

Some of my earliest memories are related to books. Curled up in

her lap, Mother would read to me, coax me into following with her;

running my finger across the words, I trailed her motions from left

to right. Moving through the book, we spent as much time discussing

the illustrations as we did the meaning. Always busiest during

those days before I entered school, I knew this was precious time

she set aside especially for me.

 

I cannot help but smile when my random search is interrupted

when I come across the Miroslav Sasek collection. This is

Rome reminds me of a dear childhood friend. How many times,

I wonder, did she carry it and others back and forth between our

houses tucked away in an old yellow Samsonite suitcase she had

covered with stickers?

 

Scanning the section further, I notice they don’t have a copy of

Kathryn Tucker Windham’s 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. There

isn’t a bookstore in all the South that doesn’t have it and Harper

Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird up front and on display. With good

reason, gifted storytellers are held in much esteem in our region.

Storytelling seems a talent bestowed before birth, rather than being

acquired with time and knowledge.

 

Books brand within the heart a place that is all their own. As a

child, Beatrix Potter was my favorite author and was an easy bribe

that Mother would use to get me to behave during church services.

If I managed to mind my manners throughout the sermon,

she would let me visit the tiny library while she straightened her

Sunday school classroom.

 

One afternoon she took longer than usual and as I sat there turning

the glossy pages, I thought how wonderful it would be to take the

book home. Not check it out, but take it, for it to be mine. Sliding

off my Mary Janes so they didn’t click against the hardwood floor,

I tip-toed to her classroom and peeked through the door. Sure that

she was thoroughly preoccupied arranging art projects and cleaning

away the paints, I took the book and slid it under the backseat of our

car. After my bath that night I reread it, ran my fingers over the same

glossy illustrations then tucked it away underneath my bed. But,

when I rolled over to say my prayers, I realized I couldn’t.

 

The following Sunday I returned it to the library and apologized.

Home from church and still filled with guilt, I walked down

the road to my best friend’s house. Since it seemed we often wound

up in trouble together, I thought she might be the best person with

whom I should confide. Sitting at the kitchen table, we made pineapple

sandwiches and listened to her mother carry on a conversation

with Ricardo Montalbán who was on TV.

 

We slathered mounds of mayo on soft white bread, tore

slices of pineapple to fit, then crammed our mouths full. These were

our favorite summer time sandwiches and they had become an

afternoon ritual. In between mouth-fulls, I told her what I’d done

then asked her the all consuming question. “Do you think I am

going to hell?”

 

Laughter in the living room rose above the noise of the TV. Her

mother came into the room, walked to the table and sat down with us.

She asked if I would make her a sandwich.

 

I nodded yes and was glad. It gave my eyes a place to go, helped

to ease my embarrassment. She took the sandwich then and tried

it, saying between bites “People from Alaska don’t eat pineapple

sandwiches.” I almost reminded her that she was Mexican, but took

another bite instead. I knew that by trying my sandwich, she was

being nice. Besides, she couldn’t fuss with a full-mouth.

 

“Now, your people are Baptist, right?” “Yes mam,” I said, trying

not to look down. “And you are saved, isn’t that right?” “Yes mam,”

I responded quickly. “Then why do you worry that you will go to

hell if you are saved and your church believes that once saved always

saved?”

 

I had to think about this a minute. I had heard this quoted

often enough, once used in defense after a certain man in my family

stated without thought that Sunday morning fishing was better than

fishing any other day of the week. And, then I told her the truth,

“Because, I don’t believe that people who keep doing bad things get

to go to heaven just because they once got saved. Unless people

who do bad things are really, really sorry and pray for forgiveness, I

think they go to hell with all the other people who do bad things,”

I explained. Putting her hand on top of mine, she laughed and said,

“Child, you are not Baptist at all! You are Catholic!”

 

It would be years later before I realized that, for me, comparing

the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church and conservative

Protestant Church was much like comparing the platforms of the

Democratic and Republican Parties. While I agreed with many

beliefs and issues from each, I could not agree with all from either.

This shared meal and conversation is my last memory of the family

with whom I was so close. At the end of summer, my parents purchased

land for our new home and we moved from our small neigh-borhood out into the country.

My friend and her parents returned

to Alaska. But, our common, once shared love of books continued.

***

Back outside into the city and noise, the sun is shining and I

decide that sightseeing, squeezed in with the few stores I want to

visit, might not be a bad thing. On Madison Avenue, I pause to

take in the Roosevelt Hotel New York. Built in 1924, it was dubbed

the “Grand Dame of Madison Avenue”. I make my way inside. A

stairway leads guests up into the lobby. A magnificent chandelier,

marbled floors and the black ironwork immediately remind me of

New Orleans. How wonderful it would have been to be a guest here

during the twenties, engulfed in the bustle of gay nightlife!

 

Not having anything else nearby I care to see, I head for Bergdorf

Goodman, and wish again that it was the holiday season, that

their famous store-front windows were decorated for Christmas.

Basement Level, I find the beauty department and perfume.

 

I think that my love of perfume began with an obsession for

bottles. Later it was an association of scent. There have been times

when I have caught a sliver, a hint of a scent; I remember it, but

cannot at that moment place it, rather it is only the pleasant sensation

of association I recall. Chanel No 5, fox fur and pointy high

heels remind me of my GrandMosie readying to go out on the

town; short platinum hair curled and pinned. Lemon and verbena

lotion mingled with an earlier dabbing of Chloe remind me of my

Grandmother Libby, always elegant, even when tending her flower

beds; auburn locks tucked beneath a wide brimmed straw hat.

 

Looking about, I could make a wish list a mile long. Everything

about this place calls out to the female in me; white marble floors,

colorful glass jars set atop white, French-style cases. The place is

both very modern and chic. Moving from counter to counter, I find

myself lingering over the Coco Mademoiselle. Hints of patchouli

and orange have me walking away wanting.

 

Next I head to Takashimaya for the flower arrangements, tarry

for a while admiring the gardenias and orchids, ponder a pot of

ginger tea and finger sandwiches, then decide I’d rather have real

food and so hail a taxi to Lower East Side.

*****

 

Arriving at Katz’s, I pile my belongings onto the table and slide into

a chair.

 

Katz’s Delicatessen opened in the Lower East Side in 1888.

The aroma, so wonderfully rich, is agonizing. I look about. It seems

nothing has changed since I was here in the early 90s! The establishment

opened over a hundred years ago and became a favorite

neighborhood eatery. They even provide the same military shipping

for our soldiers oversees that became so popular during World War

II with the slogan, “Send a salami to your boy in the Army.”

 

The menu offers too much! New York Egg Cream with chocolate

or vanilla syrup” jumps from the menu. Mixed with milk and a little

seltzer it is listed as Heaven on Earth. Surprisingly, it doesn’t contain

egg. Smiling, I notice it is only offered in Large or X-Large, so dessert

will be first. When it arrives, the waiter pauses to ask, “Well,

what do you think?”

“It is very similar to an old fashioned ice cream soda, but better,”

I tell him, not just being polite.

 

It is impossible to be unhappy while eating anything that holds

even the slightest semblance to ice cream. I remember stopping at

a cafe for a sundae after a day of shopping with my aunt Karen

on my first trip to New York. The waitress had set before us a

monstrous dessert unlike any sundae I had ever seen. Of course,

this was long before there was such a thing as Cold Stone Creamery

or Maggie Moo’s where ice creams and toppings are blended

into strange and wonderful confections. My favorite way to eat

ice cream, however, is the way my Pop-Pop prepared it. He would

pack a tall glass with store bought chocolate ice cream, then fill

it with cold milk and place it in the freezer. He left it there just

long enough for the milk to ice over. The chocolate took on a thick

frosty consistency, icy around the edges. The mix of almost frozen

milk against the icy chocolate was incomparable. I wonder how

many valuable memories I have lost along the way. So many I am sure.

And yet, the memories where food and family are intertwined

are most often remembered.

 

Scanning the menu a second time because I cannot choose, I

notice they offer tongue. I thought only Southerners still ate these

things? Tongue, tripe, knuckles, ears, feet or snout, some things

are meant to be thrown out! That is unless they are cooked down,

rendered unrecognizable, and provide the rich base for black-eyed

peas, pintos, or stew. Liver is a delicious exception.

 

I decide on the corned beef, which the menu states requires a

full month of dry curing. A gentleman seated at a neighboring table

is presented with his Cheese steak just as I’ve placed my order. If

he were still within earshot, I’d recall my waiter, but he is too far

away and caught up in conversation with someone who must be

a local. I sit and sip my dessert. People watching, I try to pick out

other tourists. We are easy to detect. Nearby, a couple argues and

it is apparent by the disdain with which they regard each other that

an agreement may not be reached any time soon.

 

For every problem, is there a solution? I have been told that

there is and I have sat long in debate on why so often it is that

people refuse the answer. Dismissive of the solution, people instead

cling to anger or personal agendas. My friend and I had discussed

it at some length when in closing he tied the answer up neatly,

stating, “For there to be a compromise, something has to be more

important than self. In choosing one thing, you must be willing

to give up the other. Rarely do you get the cake, the platter it sits

upon, the china, the silverware and someone to feed it to you.”

 

Elbow deep in corned beef, I’ve yet to eat so much that I cannot

hear when I notice the already raised voices of the impassioned pair

rise yet higher. The next question comes quiet and fierce, “What do

I have to do for this to be over?” The query matches the scowl on his

face. She says nothing, just stands and walks away. And, I look past

them to the waiter who lingers, as if searching for something to say.

 

What is necessary to gain emotional independence? Can it be

removed like shellac, this film of need -scrapped away, flaked off,

filed down, down to nothingness? In reality when you are guarded

from the pain that can be inflicted by another, there is only so much

happiness you can allow. When you begin to deaden an area of

the heart, can it be contained? Or, once allowed to set in, does the

deadening continue to spread like Gangrene and rot away at what

little good flesh is left? Packing away the remaining majority of my

sandwich, I head back out into the streets, southward again.

 

The streets become more brilliant in color, and heavy with scent.

Teenagers loiter around the storefronts. No one attempts to send

them away. Chinatown! Fish and turtle fresh from the boat line

the walkway and crabs with brilliant unbound blue claws move

about within tattered baskets, hapless, oblivious to their demise.

Rummaging through the piles of trinkets in a souvenir shop, I realize

I am at a loss. Shuffling things, I call the children. Telling them

where I am and describing everything, I ask what they would like,

then purchase a flat screen print fan for Anderson and a variety of

Chinese coins for Isaac.

 

A sign in a restaurant across the street advertises crispy fried soft

shell crabs and steamed mussels. Another lists Dim Sum. I will

have to return! The streets are full of people and full of stuff. I like

this overcrowded, busy feel, with people smiling and chatting in the

warm sun. The place seems so contained; a contradiction I admit,

because you side-step something strewn across every curb.

 

A fantastic shop catches my eye. From floor to ceiling, there are

wares stored in clear plastic containers and bins. The place appears

almost a mix between an herb shop, modern apothecary and a

county farmer’s Co-Op where planters purchase feed and seed.

One could teach science from this shop or Macbeth!

 

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

 

 

Bins are everywhere, filled with waxgourd, cassia bark, abalone,

tiandong, turtle shells, shark fins, dried octopus and sea cucumber,

cordyceps! All these would seem so odd had I not grown up in a

region chock-full of home remedies and medicine based on so much

tradition and mountain folklore. How I remember afternoons spent

foraging for persimmon to rub on skin blistered with poison oak or

ivy, digging up sassafras root to steep for a cleansing tea, rolling slim

rabbit tobacco and clove cigarettes to smoke so that our lungs would

be strong. Queen Anne’s Lace and honey are supposedly wonderful

for ulcers -which it is that truly aids, who knows. For years, we

kept English honey bees not just for the love of that golden sweet

substance but also to ward off regional allergies and treat burns. The

idea is that the honey produced from the same pollen laden plants

will reduce one’s allergic reactions during hay fever season.

 

Many of the plants we used as medicine were toxic in their raw,

natural state. So, as children, we were taught to be wary. Foolish

it is to go foraging and prepare the unfamiliar. I once knew a man

I will not name who kept a jar of Clay County moonshine laced

with wild bilberry that floated around bruised in the bottom. It was

reported to be an ailment for the eyes, but somehow the concoction

seemed to defeat its proposed purpose. And, of course, there

is Southern Elderberry wine made from the plant’s delectable fruit.

Certain species are as noxious as the polk weed we boil off in the

beginning preparation of polk salat. A rule of thumb learned early

in rural life is that if you don’t prepare it yourself, you don’t eat it.

Old Man Waldrop used to pluck the poisonous berries from

the polk stalk and chew them. “To cleanse the blood,” he would

explain. Our mothers said this was foolish. But in this case, we children

were the wiser; we knew that man was so mean the devil didn’t

even want him.

 

Last year, when I began planning this trip, I purchased three

guide books of the city. While mapping out Chinatown, I was

surprised to find that there are almost 300 restaurants within the

neighborhood’s boundaries. Some sounded better than others, and

although I had my list of wants written out well before I left home,

 

I have found that once I get into an area several things tend to

dictate choice. The first two are my mood, and the prolific bragging

of locals. Often as not, however, I choose a place to dine based on

nothing more than the way a place feels.

 

Today, I am looking for an eatery called Sweet-n-Tart Cafe. My

new friend Karen suggested I try the congee, a type of rice porridge.

In the South, there is a particular fondness for a dessert that is

also considered a staple. In our home that staple was rice pudding.

It ranked right up there with the various biscuit topped cobblers:

blackberry, peach or sweet potato. Rice pudding even held its own

at the table when presented along with butter pound cake. All

these family recipes were handed down over the years. Along the

way, others crept in. Some were come across accidently and yet

others long searched for -like the recipe for Lillian Carter’s Peanut

Butter Pound Cake.

 

Rice pudding back home is a buttery, dense pudding loaded with

vanilla, sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. The overall consistency can

be described as velvety. Usually it arrives at the table crusted with

a browned sugar and butter topping. It is wonderful hot from the

oven, at room temperature and even straight from the fridge, ice

cold. Like banana nut bread, rice pudding is a staple breakfast food

as often as it is dessert.

 

During my childhood, rice pudding appeared most often when

times were lean. Those were the days when a summer evening meal

consisted of fresh scrubbed vegetables from the garden and fish

from the trotline. Lean dinners in the winter were often bowls of

pintos and cornbread or skillet fried potatoes with onions. As the

seasons changed, fish gave way to game: fried dove or quail with

gravy, braised rabbit, smoked turkey or venison. All of these could

be taken within a five mile radius of our home. The variety may not

have been great, but there was usually plenty. Biscuits with butter,

cornbread with sorghum, molasses or honey -these were present at

almost every meal. Other times, they were the meal. More staples.

How often I sat at the kitchen table during the late evening with

Grandpa, feasting on only this and black coffee. I wish I could

remember the things we talked about and the stories he told as

clearly as I remember the food. Just as there was always Grace before

dinner in one grandparent’s house, there were always stories in the

other. Rice pudding, however, was common at both dinner tables.

 

Cash Only is posted on the door to the tiny restaurant. As of

yet, this has been the hardest adjustment I’ve had to make in the

city. Thank goodness the guidebooks warn tourist up-front. If not,

it would probably be as close as you could get to having a Southern

woman in true distress. At the counter, I order the Congee with

Hong Dou. “Good for you,” says the man nodding his approval and

making a circular motion with his hand around the stomach.

“Thank you,” I tell him. It is all I know to say.

 

Congee is made by cooking rice with water until it breaks down

into a porridge-like consistency. It is usually flavored one of two

ways: salty and robust with flavorful meat, or glutinous and sweet

with red beans, dates and palm sugar. I am in want of the latter.

 

The congee arrives and the serving is more than I anticipated.

It is a meal and has the wet consistency of porridge rather than

the thickness I associate with rice or bread pudding which, when

scooped, holds together. I have to admit to being somewhat putoff

by the addition of beans. Trying it though, I am pleased and

notice a chewiness that regular rice pudding does not have. It is

warm, sweet and heavy, very much a comfort food. Admittedly, it

is probably healthier than the rice pudding I grew up on because it

is cooked without butter and cream.

*****

 

I hail a taxi, but after several blocks the feeling of being caged con-

sumes me so I ask to be let out. I need to move, to walk. There are

so many people out and about. It is hard to get used to.

 

Rosy peaches the size of my fist catch my eye. Walking through

the open store, I concentrate on breathing in the clean smell of fresh

produce. Although the rich scent of dirt has been washed away,

there lingers another that calms; describable only as the scent ofsummon. There are so many packages! I purchase a box of fortune

cookies, pay and walk back out into the crowds.

 

This visual shopping, or window shopping as Mother calls it, is a

method I use to fill my tank. When I find myself stuck in a funk this

uncomplicated appreciation supplies a quick jump-off, a charge that

sets me back on track. I do not need to own these things to enjoy

them and because there is no predetermined direction or reason,

only leisure, it provides relaxation. The textures and colors I absorb

and inadvertently my needs are filled.

 

The warmth of the sun is veiled again by the gathering of storm

clouds. Collectively they attempt to blanket out the last sunlight

of the day; as if in protest, colors along the street burst against this

ruddy light.

 

Are there fixed stages to this madness we call life, I wonder. At

varying times we are consumed by different needs, different worries

and different desires. Is there a pattern? I believe there is. My life

is not as different, has not been so different, from that of so many

women. Many of us face similar obstacles and we draw strength and

understanding from each other’s experiences. The discoveries that

lie between us, between the layers we create together –this is life!

Yes, I believe there are patterns, just as there are with the weather,

the seasons, the stages of life.

 

But, why is it that I have spent the majority of my mature existence

trying to improve myself, my place in life, only to look back

longingly for the person I used to be?

 

As a child I did not worry about the past or the future. I did not

look so severely upon myself. Nor, did I fret over the actions of others.

Every day was looked forward to.

 

Journal Entry

The trip so far is proving relaxing, but I am far from understanding

what I need or even being sure how I feel. I cannot let go of the

immense disappointment I feel, the anger or even the resentment.

My confidence has been destroyed. Everything had seemed just as

it should.

 

Journaling is supposed to help, but I can feel waves of angst rising

within me, threatening to overpower all rational sense. Emotions –

how quickly they can consume! When happy they elate the soul,

when unpleasant they can drown even the strongest. I must focus

on the positive –I am healthy. My children are healthy and happy.

I have wonderful parents, a brother and sister-in-law and nephews.

The city is exciting and I am here on a trip I’ve always dreamt of. I

have had two good days. I will have another tomorrow. I will be o.k.

This feeling will not last; the bad passes just as quickly as the good.

It only seems to remain longer.

 

Recognizing that I must have something to distract myself until

I am able to sleep, I quietly put away my journal to read, think

on the words of others for a while, then discover my old journal,

unknowingly packed and so I begin to read and reflect on it as well.

Back and forth I move between the novels I love and the journal,

trying to find some understanding without getting too caught up

in the memories. It is impossible to see things clearly when you are

too close. Clarity comes with distance and time.

*Note 57th Street’s Rizzoli Bookstore was demolished; the domed ceilings, woodwork, chandeliers –all of it, gone.

RIZZOLI TO USE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELIZABETH MOZLEY MCGRADY

https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethmcgrady

small photo of book we share same sky

WE SHARE THE SAME SKY, a memoir

 

 

 

MEMPHIS!

I started daydreaming about Memphis a week before our trip was even a sure thing.

Because I’ve always loved New Orleans, the history of the place, the sound of jazz and smells of rich food wafting into the streets, I thought I might also enjoy Memphis.  Besides, who isn’t a fool for BBQ & Elvis?!

I still haven’t forgiven my mother for not letting me go to an Elvis’ concert with my best friend in 1976.  Yes, I was in the 4th grade, but it was a birthday gift from her mother!  As I researched and planned the Memphis trip, I realized that visiting Graceland was not an option –too structured for a road trip.  Generally, I choose a few things I’m interested in and just go with it, letting the rest of the trip spontaneously unfold.  For some reason, the idea of keeping a ‘schedule’ seems to suck the fun out of things.

However, our route to Memphis, Tennessee took us straight through Tupelo, Mississippi –Elvis’ birthplace.  At the time of Elvis’ birth in 1935, the town was commonly known as “the roughest town in north Mississippi”.  It was a great stop.  In less than twenty minutes we saw the house and rode around the town where Elvis had wandered the streets as a kid.

The two room shotgun house was built by Elvis’ father, uncle and grandfather.

plaqElivis birthplace

 The Presley family car, 1935.

P car in Tupelo MS

It was late evening when we arrived in Memphis and not having any particular destination in mind my husband and I just enjoyed walking around downtown.  Beale Street was already blocked off and lit up like a Christmas tree.  Doors to the bars were thrown open wide and sure enough the heavy rhythmic sounds from local Blues bands lingered in the street.

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But, I had other plans and pulled James into A. Schwab. When I was browsing the net I’d discovered the establishment had recently reintroduced an old-time soda bar. Immediately I’d set my heart on having an egg cream soda.  *An egg cream doesn’t have egg in it at all but rather cream, soda water, chocolate or vanilla flavoring.  As we strolled through the store, I found a couple of really nice hats and a metal paddle-car that would be great fun for the grandbaby. The place retains the charming feel of another time; perhaps it is the smell of old wood.  Abraham Schwab, a Jewish immigrant, opened the store in 1876.  In 1912 he moved it to its current location on 163 Beale Street where it is now the last original business.

True to form, I got carried away in my browsing -there are so many little nooks and crannies just filled with all sorts of things.  We decided to return after dinner, thinking there would still be room for dessert.

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Let me take a minute to say that if you have never been to Memphis, you may love Beale Street.  It is bright, loud and covered up with folks out to have a good time.  However, other than a stroll to take it all in, I am not a Beale Street kind of girl.  I am smitten with Main Street though!

 amain at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

aflyingsaucerI’ve discovered that pretty much anything can be accomplished by bribing a husband with the promise of good beer -including covering the same area innumerable times, on foot, in frigid weather, when hungry.

While roaming around Main Street we came across the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium at 130 Peabody Place and decided to sample a few. The perks of walking around downtown Memphis are indeed great!

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I fell hard for the Murphy’s Irish Stout.  James had the Belhaven Black and a Spatan Lager.  They were good, but mine was much better~

aaaaa

Beer finished, we headed back to 138 Beale Street & Blues City Cafe for the Gumbo Cheese Fries, a PBR -I’d never had one 😉 a Ghost Magic 16 & the tamales with a cup of chili -which we ended up sharing because the plate of cheese fries the bartender presented us with was monstrous.

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I am now a huge fan of Blues City Cafe!  The atmosphere is great and I honestly think that sitting at the tiny bar to the back made it even better!

achiliThere is a huge plate glass window separating the little bar (so cozy) from the rest of the cafe, so you can see everyone dining with family and still be snug as a bug.  It was a packed house, but the bartender got us our appetizer in record time and warned us about ordering more food before we had the fries.

The gumbo is poured across the top before they are topped with shredded cheese….

I can’t even begin to describe how good they are!

 

 

 

 

 Saturday Morning –

photo (32)  city market

Out and about the night before we found City Market Groceries & Deli at 66 Main Street and realized they had a coffee bar.  So that is where we were first thing -real espresso & real cappuccinos!   We grabbed fresh baked sausage and chicken biscuits and sat at the bar that looked out over Main Street to watch the early morning joggers freeze their crazy asses off.  It is truly shocking how many there were… If I lived in Memphis, I’d be here every morning, sipping cappuccino, doing a little writing and counting.

Our first stop for the day was probably the thing I was most excited about.  I know how odd it sounds but I always visit a cemetery when I travel to a new city.  The information I found on Elmwood Cemetery had me rushing through breakfast.

aelmwoodgateElmwood Cemetery is open every day of the year 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and is located at 824 S. Dudley Street.  It was literally a hop, skip and a jump from downtown.  When James and I arrived we pulled into the cottage and went in to purchase a driving tour.  We were not expecting a history lesson or for our new friends to pull out the copy of the deed.  Nor did I expect a rub-down from Howard the resident cat.    deed

The cemetery was established in 1852, but many of the tombstones are much older as they were moved from other cemeteries throughout the city.  Elmwood is an example of a garden cemetery, set up in a park-like layout that includes “sweeping vistas, shady knolls, large stands of ancient trees, and magnificent monuments.”  No kidding, it is beautiful.

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An hour driving tour is not what you’re really in for, unless you never get out of the car.  James and I stopped and walked so often and hit replay on the audio because we couldn’t trust that what we had heard was accurate, that it took us almost four hours!  I still can’t believe we had that much fun. When it’s ‘your thing’ there is always worry when you drag the unsuspecting along.  (I also got to keep the audio cd! No duplicates shall be made…)   pan elmwood

beautiful elmwood

Some of my favorite stories were about a madam who later turned her ‘mansion’ of pleasure into a hospital during the yellow fever epidemic; a lesbian tryst that ended with a slit throat- poor Alice; the tale about moved Union coffins, chalked-in names and unexpected rain.  And, of course, Shelby Foote’s burial site. Every Southerner knows Shelby Foote –our Civil War historian.  He is buried next to Nathan Bedford Forrest’s family plot. The general and his wife are no longer buried at Elmwood.

shhh elmaagravegreat

More than 75,000 people are buried in Elmwood. When the site lists “soldiers of the American Revolution through Vietnam, mayors, governors, senators, madams, blues singers, suffragists, martyrs, Union generals, Confederate generals, civil rights leaders, holy men and women, outlaws and millionaires” it means it!  There are over 1,000 Confederate soldiers and veterans buried in the Confederate Soldier’s Rest.

 

 

 

*****

LUNCH ran late…but there were several places we wanted to try!  Lucky for me THRILLIST ran their first issue on Memphis several days before we left and I had every intention of breaking  in the husband on our first road trip together.

aaainsidebar    pim cheese fries

We headed to The Second Line in Midtown for some “simple, authentic New Orleans fare”. I had roast beef po’boy on my mind -but I just couldn’t have one if it wasn’t at MOTHER’S in NO.  So… we decided to split an order of the andouille, crawfish & pimento cheese fries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Although I had not admitted it yet, my heart was set on eating at Hog & Hominy in East Memphis.

hog & hominy

 

I’d heard about the wood-fired Red Eye Pizza – with pork belly, celery leaves, fried egg and fontina.

 

 

 

The Red Eye PizzaJ. Cole with Southern Living Magazine ranked them  #4 in “The South’s Best New Restaurants” in 2013 with food created by chefs Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman. (They won the 2013 Food & Wine Best New Chefs award.) The two are known for combining their  “Italian Roots with Southern cooking” and have just launched a new cookbook.

 collardsJames and I sampled beer while we waited on our Red Eye, trying the Wise Kung Fu Draft, Mama’s LIttle Yellow Pill & Wise Tiny Bomb Draft.  The pizza ended up being one of the best I’ve ever had. That’s saying a lot considering I grew up in Gadsden, Alabama feasting on Mater’s pizza.  The charred crust added to the smokiness of the pork and it was surprising how much flavor the celery leaves added. pb pie

Our waitress made sure to tell me the recipe for the peanut butter pie was in the cookbook!  The bottom layer was like cheese cake.  It and a slight saltiness of the crust cut the sweet of the peanut butter; a layer of fresh sliced bananas separated the two.  It was ice cold & divine!  One slice to share  was not enough.

 Rather than venture out again later that evening, we opted to stay in and watch old WWII movies.  Sunday morning we awakened to a downpour, reevaluated & adjusted our plans and headed back to Bama.  A box of French pastries from la baguette on 3083 Poplar Ave & a couple of lottery tickets eased my angst at having missed the Peabody Ducks and breakfast at the Arcade Restaurant, Memphis’ oldest cafe.

So, another trip to Memphis will be necessary!   I intend to see the Peabody ducks parade through their grand hotel and there are several more places I want to eat.  Let’s not forget I didn’t get my egg cream soda!   I’ve also decided that Memphis is the perfect location for a novel I’m working on…

…the reasons for another visit just keep adding up.

A moment of weakness

 

 

aaaticket

 

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ELIZABETH MOZLEY MCGRADY

https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethmcgrady

small photo of book we share same sky

WE SHARE THE SAME SKY, a memoir

The Lure of a Road Trip~

I think for me, the love of a road trip began at a very early age.

Most Sundays after church, the family would load up in the car with snacks and a cold soda for a long ride in the country.  Not that my brother, Oba, or I ever complained but when we’d ask why we were going Papa always replied, “Gas is cheap”.  And, we didn’t always know where we were going.  The parents didn’t even know.  Mother would explain that we were just getting out for a while, getting away and although they were not sure where we were going, they were sure we would all enjoy it.

carAnd, we did!

There are also the memories of Florida getaways.  I’m not just talking about the vacation itself, but the drive.  Papa never took the interstate.  He chose the back roads because they were more appealing.  Sure, the interstate offered a speedy trip, but it killed any chance of feeding the senses.  Looking back, I’m not sure we ever went the same way twice.  But, it was glorious.  Oba and I didn’t sit in the back seat and ask, “How much longer?”  We were keen observers of our surroundings and stayed on the look-out for something fun to do. My parents made the trip down as much fun as the time we spent  on the beach.  No one watched the clock.  There was no rush.  We stopped at Civil War Memorials, old historic hotels, well-known restaurants and hole-in-the-wall eateries –and almost every farmer’s market we could find!  Papa always took a cooler. Oba and I constantly begged for a ripe watermelon.  These were usually sold out of the back of a farmer’s pickup truck. Mother had a thing for fresh roasted peanuts.  I wanted mine Cajun boiled.

I never know when the desire to roam will overwhelm me.  But, I’m always ready –drop of the hat, right here right now, ready!  When it hits, it hits hard.  And, it’s not always at an opportune time.   Here it is Christmas, and that desire to go exploring has taken hold, a strong hold, and it’s not letting go.

There is just something invigorating and exciting about the spur-of-the-moment, a flip of the coin decision to GO!  It doesn’t even have to be a new place for me.  There are cities and towns for which my appreciation will never wane.

Perhaps, revisiting a beloved city is even better than experiencing the new. There are the familiar things you love that draw and entice.

 photo 6

I want to feel the excitement of anticipation; pull clothes from the closet, roll them and fill my old military duffle; pick a place, purchase a ticket and climb on board the train then sit and watch through the window as the landscape slides by, or read a good book, think about the things I am going to do.

                                                I want to stand on the subway platform in Manhattan and listen to the street musicians; ice skate at Rockefeller Plaza with the kids; take a midnight Christmas at Rockefeller Center, 2008taxi ride around downtown.

 

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I want to rise early in New Orleans and peek into private courtyards…

run my hands along old iron-work…photo (1)

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wait in line at Café du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait with the grandbaby.

 

 

 

 

I want to hike Mt. Rainer in the snow again, and wander Seattle…aaaaaaaaaaa

 

 

 

 

 

have fresh oysters and purchase succulent dates that are the size of my thumb at Pike Place Market…aaa

                                                        see San Francisco with my husband for the first time.

 

I want to walk in NYC pon a beautiful winter night with snowflakes falling, holiday lights flashing…

 

 

sip hot chocolate in Central Park under the moonlight &…

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As often happens when the desire to roam strikes at an inopportune time, I return to my journals hoping to fill the need if only a little.

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JOURNAL of a time in Central Park that did not make it into the memoir, We Share the Same Sky.

At last, I have found a place that bears a resemblance to home-Central Park.  I cannot live without trees, trees and leaves -oh, beautiful leaves.  I reach up and pluck one from a nearby low-hanging limb.  My intentions are to press it, and put it away in a book so that one day when it is pulled down from its shelf, the page will fall open to this reminder, a token of a worthwhile week in the city.  The words to my favorite Walt Whitman poem dance across my mind. 

“…All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the branches; without any companion it grew there, uttering joyous leaves of dark green…”

The light here in the park is different than in the city.  The beauty of nature reflects it differently.  Or perhaps it is that the light is absorbed more, rather than reflected.  And the sounds are familiar.  I can hear the laughter of children at play on the lawn, birds in the distance calling to one another from beneath the overhang of tree limbs.  Like the children, they too are dancing, chirping.  And suddenly, as though from nowhere in particular, I am hungry for home.

 Cheaha Lake, December 2014Mt. Cheaha Lake, December 2014. Photo by Lakeside Living editor, Buddy Roberts.

 

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ELIZABETH MOZLEY MCGRADY

https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethmcgrady

small photo of book we share same sky

WE SHARE THE SAME SKY, a memoir

Tate Publishing

January 14, 2014

We Share the Same Sky chronicles an independent excursion to New York City the summer of 2007. The memoir revolves around the typical NYC experience: exploring neighborhoods and cultural enclaves; gorging at Manhattan’s famous and not-so-famous restaurants and bakeries; and contemplation on well-known and unfamiliar city landmarks and icons. Woven throughout is a look into the Southern female psyche with reflections on the influence family and place have on personal identity. In a more constant strain, the memoir addresses the effect our beliefs have on the choices we make in our daily lives, for faith is the inextricable link that ties us all together.

A recent review: http://theleftbankofthecoosa.blogspot.com/2014/04/we-share-same-sky-by-elizabeth-mozley.html