Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Silver is the New Green.

The house we bought when we moved to Oxford was a jewel in the rough that no one else seemed to want to polish. Our realtor was a little surprised that after all the homes he showed us in town, “this” was the one that caught our eye. We were not looking for cookie cutter houses set in treeless subdivsions, but something with a little character that we could make our own. The 1958 split-level with worn white aluminum siding and crumbling red brick had the curb appeal of warehouse, but we saw it as a vintage jewel. It’s been five years now and we are still polishing.

Renovating an older ranch style home is a little like preparing for your class reunion; you can do one of two things. You can go the Botox/lipo/nip-tuck route and show up looking like a well-rested Michael Jackson. Or you can embrace your age, put on some confidence and work with what you’ve got. Slapping some columns and a few Bahamas shutters on our home was not going to make it a Tuscan villa so we decided to let the house be what it was and restore it to its retro glory days of the 1950’s and early 60’s.

This decision was bad for my Pay Pal account and good for e-bay retro antique sellers. I spent way too much time in front of the monitor researching 50’s period d├ęcor and trying to outbid other mid-century fanatics for a giant globe light for the porch and Eames chairs for the den. Happily, I found that in Oxford not many people got that excited about Herman Miller office chairs or a knock-off Saarinen dining set. So most of the pieces that now grace our home were someone else’s cast offs. My teak stereo credenza was a steal at forty dollars from the Salvation Army, the Fritz Hansen Danish desk chair was put out on the side of the road on moving day (yeah, you heard me) and the cobalt blue Miller chairs in the parking lot of a thrift store, which caused me to do a U-turn on two wheels with a van load of screaming kids, were a fraction of the price I had been tracking them for on e-bay. It pays to have quick reflexes, a mini-van and a good eye for roadside trash. But alas, I have also experienced complete disasters in vintage treasure hunting that I will never live down. Like the time I dropped off a load of clothes at the back bay of the Salvation Army to have a worker ask me, no beg me, to take a crazy looking broken upholstered ripped chair for five bucks. It was funky and somewhat familiar but it was in need of repair and as you may have discerned by now, I had enough used furniture to redo already. So I left it. A few days later when looking through my Atomic Ranch magazine (yes, there is such), there it was – the Hans Wegner Papa Bear Chair. Such a rare treasure, they have been known to sell for more than $12,000 at auction. By the time I got back to the store the next day they had already sent it to the dump.

Like most things in need of constant care and attention, this house has given us feelings of deep satisfaction and at times complete frustration. But she is what she is. She’s still a little lackluster on the curb appeal and worn around the edges, but just like your momma told you, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The 6ft. shiny aluminum vintage Christmas tree that dons our living room is our ultimate homage to the spirit of this house. Wally and the Beaver have nothing on my boys who think it’s just “swell” to slide dozens of frilly metal limbs from their original wax sleeve and stick them in the holes of the silver painted stick trunk to the tunes of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. All that is missing is the matching vintage color wheel, casting it's crayola box light show against the tinseled branches. If you happen to have one collecting dust in your attic, I know a family who will give it a really nice home.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Remember when your mom sewed your Halloween costume and your choices were limited to witch, gypsy, hobo or cowboy? If mom was too tired to whip out the ole Singer, you could always grab the scissors and raid the linen closet for the fall back Charlie Brown ghost get up. This was still kind of cool because your only other option was buying the creepy plastic Cartoon masks with minuscule air holes and matching tie on paper suits from the dime store, which was like trick or treating naked in a hospital gown with no oxygen. After hours of hyperventilating toxic fumes in your Casper mask and shoving countless pieces of candy corn through the tiny plastic mouth hole, you were lost in a Halloween stupor no Hannah Montana costumed child of today could match.

My mother and grandmother worked for weeks one year sewing on a red satin jumpsuit with a long sequined tail and skullcap with horns complete with matching trident. I can’t remember now if I asked to be a devil for Halloween or my parents were just trying to tell me something, either way I wore it with pride in a costume contest at school. I decided at the last minute to outshine my fellow less provocative costumed classmates by parading across stage swinging my tail and chanting the old Flip Wilson line, “The devil made me do it!” I won hands down. Aaaaah the good ole politically and religiously incorrect days of Halloween, before the slick on-line costume mega stores, “Fall holiday” school parties, and church carnivals with kids dressed as Abraham and Sarah.

When did we get so spooked about Halloween? I think it’s healthy that we have a holiday where we trot out our fears and parade around to make light of the things that go bump in the night. Americans are generally uneasy when it comes to talking about things that we fear, unless of course you work at Fox Network and it’s a presidential election year and the state of the economy seems scarier than Jack Nicholson in The Shinning. The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines fear as “anxious concern,” which at present we have plenty of. But what if we realized that most of our fears are unfounded? What if we remembered that when we shine knowledge and light on our fears and face them rather than fuel them, they vanish like the bogeyman in the closet who is never there when you finally get your nerve up to crawl out of bed and throw open the door.

My devil costume is packed away in moth balls somewhere, the Casper mask long gone, is now selling for big bucks on e-bay. Since I have not touched a sewing machine since that disastrous vest experiment in 7th grade home ec. I will try to come up with a creative ensemble involving handy hem and duck tape that won’t embarrass my Wal-mart costumed clad sons too badly this Halloween. I was thinking of going as Sarah Palin, but I can't afford her wardrobe. Since it only involves a sheet and some scissors, I could just just pull a Charlie Brown and hope I don't get rocks. As long as I cut my air holes big enough and remember to breathe I’ll be o.k. And if I start hyperventilating between now and November 4th, I'll just scarf all the Halloween chocolate and breathe into my paper candy sack. I'm not scared.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Field Guide for the Mississippi Presidential Debate Press

To following is s field guide for journalists from the United States and abroad visiting our fair town of Oxford, Mississippi for the first 2008 presidential debate and observing us southerners in our natural setting:

The native Oxonian is an elusive creature, considered by some to top the endangered species list in Mississippi. Encroachments of condo and student dwellings used by seasonal nomads have all but wiped out his natural habitat. He can sometimes be found wandering the gentrified town square, bewildered by the new banks, bars and Rodeo-Drive dress shops that have replaced his once beloved drug store, diner and barber. Friendly and approachable, he will answer almost any question, eventually. Just make sure you have time and a voice recorder to replay at high speed for later transcription.

The Southern Republicanus erectus on the other hand is a thriving subgroup that flourishes in these environs. They can be seen roving in packs through pricey boutiques, restaurants and Bass Pro Shops. Although upright and bipedal, they still prefer traveling in hulking petroleum-dependent tank objects. Predominately a hunting and gathering species, Republicanus erectus is status oriented. Animal heads and horns adorn their dwellings in a display of strength. When threatened with loss of political rule, some cling with fervor to their belief system, others to their material gains, and others to their 12 gauge.

Democraticus robustus , the rarest of Southern species, usually only surfaces in public during a tight election year. Primarily nocturnal, they commune in small groups to bolster themselves with Michael Moore films and import beer. This ritual venting allows for easier assimilation into the dominant Republicanus culture without complete loss of group identity. Agrarian in origin, Democraticus robustus feeds mostly on seeds and legumes for nourishment but is also known to share platters of raw fish and seaweed. In daylight they can be found lurking behind books, human rights issues and tenured titles.

In a show of strength, the two opposing groups readily unite when outsider clans cross territorial boundaries to take part in the ceremonial tossing of an inflated pigskin. These subspecies are also quick to pool their material resources and skills to help each other and those outside their territory during natural disasters, economic hardship, and national media scrutiny. In fact, if you had observed our culture any other week of the year, it would be difficult to tell Mississippians ever evolved into separate species at all.

Mississippian subcultures choose to exist harmoniously with one another most of the time due to close proximity, kinship ties and a small dating pool. They seem to understand that this symbiotic relationship is necessary for the survival of their species. While neither species has fully evolved, their microcosm provides evidence that the mutual respect of political and social ideologies can result in a successful and productive society. It is hoped that, as visiting researchers, you will pass your observations onto the higher chiefdom in Washington.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Last American Housewife

“Just whistle while you work (whistle) Put on that grin and start right into whistle loud and long. Just hum a merry tune (hum) Just do your best and take a rest and sing your self a song. When there's too much to do don't let it bother you, forget your troubles, try to be just like a cheerful chick-a-dee… And as you sweep the room imagine that the broom is someone that you love and soon you'll find you're dancing to the tune.
-Snow White

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”
-Mae West

Before Disney went PC and gave young girls of America smart plucky role models like Mulan, Belle and Pocahontas there was a generation of us that were raised to believe that scrubbing floors and cooking for dwarfs would one day get us the prince and the castle. Snow White and Cinderella taught us that housecleaning and the ability to communicate with domestically trained forest animals was just a necessary stepping stone to princess-hood.
The biggest disappointment of my adult life was not that I didn’t find Prince Charming, I did, but talking a deer into doing the dishes has been a much more of a challenge.

I am one of the few, the proud, the unemployable. A member of a diminishing band of women who forged into the new millennium with Law degrees and doctorates in hand but no wages earned, no 401k saved and a decreased IQ of 40 points post baby. We eschewed the hard earned rights our sister’s of the 70’s worked for to attain equal rights to become mothers, drive carpool and play tennis. We are dependent upon our husbands or partners for insurance, food, clothing and the wine pick up on the way home from work. As newlyweds, life was good; we had double incomes and titles by day and donned aprons or negligees to play house at night, which inevitably led to stretch jeans with cotton belly panels and our current state of mom-hood. We are, the Last American Housewives.

We turned our backs on the corporate world and all of its trappings. The expense account and corporate jet seem as ethereal as the fairy tales we read to our kids at bed time. Water cooler conversations consist of listening to your toddler babble through oatmeal while you finish off everyone’s leftover O.J. from breakfast. Coffee breaks are trying to balance a Starbucks latte while pushing your infant seat laden grocery cart one-handed down the beer aisle. The power lunch is neither, unless your idea of haute cuisine is eating with your fourth grader in the elementary school cafeteria or a Lean Cuisine before carpool line.

And yet here we are. We chose this didn’t we? We struggled to make the car payments and send Billy to camp on one income. We shopped at Target for those trendy little items that might pass for the pricey boutique pieces that we may have once been able to afford. We shortened vacations, put off much needed house renovations and bought our make up at Walgreen’s, all so we could hear from our ten year old, “Mama, I wish you worked like all the other mothers?”  

If I had a corporate boss overseeing my domestic duties I would be fired on the spot. The last hot family meal was a Sonic grilled cheese, we missed last week’s soccer game because I printed off another team’s schedule, and I missed yesterday’s science fair field trip trying to finish this column. I haven’t made it to the grocery in days so we’re down to debating whether the last sip of milk left in the fridge should go to my son’s cereal or my husband’s coffee. I have renamed an area of our house full of unfolded or unwashed items – “Clothes Mountain.” Like some Zen Koan, the morning mantra in our house is “Where are my socks!” I respond, “You will find what you seek in Clothes Mountain, young grasshopper.”

But the nice thing about a profession in domesticity is job security; no one wants your position. So feel free to walk out on the job from time to time with the confidence that you are irreplaceable. And if you do feel the need to clean I’ve taken the liberty of changing Snow White’s lyrics a little. Feel free to whistle while you work.

“When there’s just too much to do
Don’t let it bother you,
Just sit right down and have a round
‘till you don’t feel so blue.
Or hand your kids the broom be sure to leave the room,
then turn your little i-pod up so you won’t hear them fume.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Monkeys R Us

Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.”
-Charles Darwin

Where most families practice serial pet ownership with dogs, cats and the occasional hamster, my mother’s family had monkeys. It sounds exotic now, but it was fairly common in Florida where my grandmother grew up. Her sister took in a monkey said to have been a stowaway found on the banana boats docking in Sarasota. My grandmother most likely thought a poodle paled in comparison and brought back her own monkey with her to North Mississippi where she had since set up house. This was the 1950’s and 60’s when worrying about the consequences of trafficking a wild tropical animal to Tupelo was as ludicrous as worrying about your daily pack of Virginia Slims and happy hour Martini during pregnancy.

By the time I was born they were on monkey number three, and most of the more infamous monkey incidents had already taken place. But I do have a faint memory of my grandmother’s back yard; a large expanse of green that always seemed impossible to traverse. My mother says that when I was a toddler, learning to walk, the monkey would follow me and wait until I struggled victoriously to a vertical position then grab the back of my diaper and jerk me down to the ground. I thanked her for this information and said my future therapist would appreciate it also.

The family cat faired much worse. He became the object of unrequited monkey love which no restraining order could have put asunder. The cat had quickly learned that the normal evasive feline moves used in dog pursuits were not effective against a primate with a prehensile tail. If the cat went into a full throttle run the monkey caught up with it in three bounds, if the cat climbed a tree the monkey was already swinging to the top branch waiting to greet him. So the cat did what any self-respecting descendent of the majestic Tiger would do, it slowly tried to slink away without the monkey seeing him. The monkey would blithely let the cat tiptoe a few steps to freedom, then grab the end of the cat’s tail like a rope and reel him in to a crusher bear hug. There the defeated cat would hang limp until it was released for the game to start over all over again. It was all very Pepe le Peu.

When the monkey got bored with the cat there was always human entertainment to be had. One holiday he fished my grandfather’s dentures out of the glass on his bedside and ran up a tree where the family gathered to coax the monkey down so my grandfather could eat his Thanksgiving dinner. When an old friend looked up my grandparents for a visit, the monkey got two eggs from the refrigerator ran up the back of his chair and cracked them on his head. The man screamed so loud that the otherwise potty trained monkey lost all bowel function on the spot. We now own dogs.

Copyright Mimi Holland Lilly 2007

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Weekend In New England

For some, traveling south of the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time is an experience as exotic as a trip to Cairo or Tibet, but without the jet lag. Armed with ingrained images from the movies Deliverance and Mississippi Burning, they tentatively leave the familiarity of their metropolitan airports and drive into our kudzu covered environs wondering, “Will I be able to converse in Hillbilly? Will a toothless banjo playing inbred drop from a tree onto the hood of my Prius?” and most importantly, “Will I have to squeal like a pig?” Just the mere mention of our state’s melodic name elicits fear in some, admiration in others. We are the “Hillary Clinton” of the Nation. You either love us or you hate us.

I have to admit that I was ethnocentric enough to believe that we were the only region blessed with redneck culture. I just didn’t think that Northern states had them. I thought they just sprouted here in the fertile fundamentalist soil of the South where guns, God and good ole’ boys reign supreme. But I was wrong. Before my first trip to New England I imagined a cultivated society where pipe-smoking Harvard grads read Yeats aloud to girls named Muffie while sailing their million dollar yachts. So when a childhood friend of my husband who was marrying a girl from up East invited us to the wedding, I jumped at the chance to see this Beaver Cleaver Land up close. It was to be held in New Hampshire on an island on the very lake where the movie “On Golden Pond” was filmed. Envisioning a Kennedy-esque weekend of boating and Bellinis, I excitedly packed my little black dress, strappy heels, Jackie O’ shades, and jetted off to what promised to be my first posh New England experience.

The drive from Boston into New Hampshire started to look a little too familiar. The terrain of trees, rolling hills and more trees, made me realize that this was not going to be a country mouse visits city mouse kind of trip. As civilization disappeared in the rear view mirror I adjusted my Jackie O’s and wished I’d packed my hiking boots. When we finally reached the address of the Bed and Breakfast that had been reserved for our weekend stay by our gracious northern hosts, we see a non-descript house the size of our own, with more than twenty Harleys shimmering in a sea of Budweiser cans. As we pull the car around to the back yard parking lot I look out my window to see four pig hooves sticking up out of an old claw foot bathtub as straight as table legs next to a guy in a Do-Rag cranking a chain saw. I turned to my husband and said, “I can get this at home, we are out of here!” After spinning gravel back down the drive and into the next town we did finally find a charming white clap board inn with red geraniums spilling from window boxes overlooking a lake with, yes, yachts.

I left for home satisfied that you can’t judge a region by its media image and that no matter where you travel you realize we are more alike than we are different. I know that when our northern neighbors do reach their tourist destinations, be it Oxford, Athens or Savannah, they do seem quite relieved to realize that: yes, we do speak the same language although its slower with more syllables, yes, we do have toothless banjo players but we send them on to Nashville where they get veneers and tour with Allison Krauss, and yes, we do have some pig squealing but it usually results in some of the best bar-b-que this side of New Hampshire.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Religion, gender and race, oh my!

And what we’ve seen in these last weeks is that we’re also up against forces that are not the fault of any one campaign, but feed the habits that prevent us from being who we want to be as a nation. It’s the politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon. A politics that tells us that we have to think, act, and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us.
Barack Obama-excerpt from South Carolina Victory Speech

Religion, gender and race, oh my. Toto, we’re not in South Carolina anymore and I would gladly trade in my ruby slippers for a crystal ball to find out how America will vote on Super Tuesday.

Even before last week’s Democratic primary I knew there was mutiny in the ranks when my "W" worshipping southern white conservative mother, who wouldn’t even ride in the car with me during the last election because of my Kerry bumper sticker, said that she wanted Barack Obama to be our next President. "At bridge, I try to tell my friends that he’s a Christian, not a Muslim; the Democrats aren’t that dumb." she chides. Her reason for crossing over seems to echo that of most polled voters. She feels that what we have now is not working anymore and she is ready for someone fresh. She also explained that it’s not the party but the person she is voting for in this election and to drive the point home added that she "can’t stand that Hillary Clinton."

The outcome of last week’s South Carolina primary showed that the South was once again underestimated and misunderstood. It was assumed that the conservatives would only vote Republican, the women Democrats would vote for Hillary, the African-Americans would vote for Obama and the rest of the folks would just stay at home and watch "The View." But what seems to be developing is an unprecedented time in American politics where not only are the candidates making history because of their gender, skin color and religion, but the voters in the South are making history by throwing out their predicted scripts and choosing to vote across party, gender and race lines.

The power of the swing vote was apparent even in a fifth grade presidential election held in my son’s class this month. He and four of his classmates campaigned with candy, speeches and fliers to win votes for the presidency. When it came down to a run off between my son and a female student, the class evenly divided the votes along gender lines, the girls voted for the girl, the boys for the boy, which is not surprising for a group of eleven year olds. But instead of a tie, my son was elected by a one vote margin, that unexpected swing voter being a girl who later told him that she had voted his way. Now enter the nebulous world of grown up politics in the South and it may again come down to those unexpected swing voters bucking the "category that supposedly defines them" that determines our next President.

My own informal and very unscientific methods of political polling consist of grilling friends and family and eavesdropping. I had one witty Republican voting friend volunteer that she wished that some of the GOP candidates in this year’s race knew their Constitution better than their Bibles. "I’m electing a president not a pastor," she said. I also overheard a telling little exchange last week between two women working in one of our local home furnishing stores. It went something like this: "You know, I just don’t like the fact that they got so mad at each other during that debate. They let their emotions get the best of them. I’m just not sure that I want Hillary making big decisions while she’s going through menopause." The other woman responded, "Oh, honey she went through that years ago when she was in the White House with Bill!" While I prayed that Gloria Steinem had not made a sudden pit stop to buy antiques that day I did wonder if it was only in the South that Hillary’s hot flashes got top billing over her health care plan.

Whether our fellow southerners voting on February 5th in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Arkansas are Yellow Dog Democrats, Moderate Republicans, Independents or first time voters not even a crystal ball could predict how they will cast their votes. The outcome of Super Tuesday may even be more exciting than the outcome of Super Bowl Sunday. The field is wide open. As for me, my money’s on Barack and the Giants.