lucy's place in the sun

"Did I ever tell you about the time that Lucy saved my life?"
When Lucy showed up at the Rustic Palace, she was starving and had recently whelped. "You could see every bone in her system," says Dad. "We didn't think she was going to make it." They fed her milk sops that she could barely lift her head to eat. But she lived and thrived, and became a very devoted protector.
One day not so long ago, with Lucy running alongside, Dad drove the "Mule," an ATV, down to the creek. And I do mean down, it's a long, very steep hill. Well, once at the bottom, it started to rain. And as Dad tried to get back up the hill, the gears stuck and the mule slipped back. Finally, he gave up and left it and started toiling up the hill on foot. It was very slippery and steep, and he fell in the mud several times (a dangerous thing when you're on blood thinners).
He started crawling up the hill. "Lucy stayed right by me, touching my side at all times," he says. "If I slipped back, she'd wait for me to catch up, and then we would go again." The two inched forward until rescue arrived. And even then, Lucy wouldn't leave Dad's side for quite a while.


location, location, location

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When I look at familiar locales on Google maps, I try to figure out when the pictures were made. I can't tell about the Block Island one. It seems clear that it's way off season as storm doors are shut and I don't see any vehicles. Turn around and look at the ocean and it seems pretty rough.
The Missouri picture is amazing, though. It can be dated easily in this very blog. That's my brother Chris's rental truck and work table under the canopy. And if you go down the street and turn around, you can see me painting in the yard. I never saw the photographers pass. Or you can go up to the bridge and see that the river is high.
As for Alabama, no street view is available. No streets.



We have settled into a routine here in Alabama, more or less. Here's today, for instance.
6ish Dad wakes up and watches weather. Makes coffee. Gives dogs "cookies."
7:30 I wake up.
8:15 I get up, make Dad Rocky Mountain toast and papaya and deliver on tray. Give poor starving dogs more cookies. Clean up tortoise poop. Wash tortoise towels. Regret not bathing tortoise recently so he poops in water instead of his cage/tank. Wonder whether Dad fed tortoise lettuce he (Dad, not tortoise) bought at WalMart yesterday. Change lightbulb that keeps tortoise warm.
9:00-11:00 Blog, read newspaper, e-mail, talk on phone. Dad goes to get haircut. Any dogs who missed breakfast plead for food, along with those who have already had some.
11:00-1:00 Bask on porch, if warm enough (40 degrees at the moment). Check to see if Jan's plants are dead yet. Make sandwich for Dad at some point.
1:00-3:00 Contemplate going to WalMart for more dog cookies. Deal with compost, burn trash, drive trash to garbage can at road. Fetch wood in case of rain. Dad naps or reads.
4:30 Dad feeds starving dogs. Again.
5:00 Dad lays fire. I prep dinner. (Potato latkes and cabbage tonight?)
5:30-8:30 Dad lights fire. Cocktails. Dinner on trays in front of fire. Relight fire due to wet wood. Fire finally starts. Watch fire.
8:30 Dad heads for bed and book, letting dogs in or out at will (their will).
9:30 I head for bed and book, letting dogs in or out.
1:00 Dogs howl. Somebody lets them in or out.
3:00 Dogs howl. Nobody can cope.


city girl

I have been hanging out with a pretty exclusive crowd lately. Luncheon today. Dinner at the house above on Friday. It's a never ending social whirl.
The truth is, they feel sorry for me, a city girl stuck out here in God's country. Or they pretend to, anyway. "Come on over when you start to feel like you're reliving Deliverance," one says. Or, "If you start to hear the opening bars of 'Dueling Banjos' wafting up from the valley, give a call and we'll drive you to the airport."
They've never been to my place in the Ozarks, which makes Talladega look like Paris.
I'm the understudy here, though. They miss the principal player. And when she returns next week, I'll pack up my carpetbag and slink back up to the bright lights of Broadway.


snake doctor

It was a day of insects. There was the dog tick the size of a pea, the large spider in the drain and the scorpion on my bathroom floor. Alive. My father picked it up and flushed it down the toilet. "Did I ever tell you about the time. .

It seems that among the islands of the West Indies, only three have poisonous snakes. Each island has a legend about how the snakes came to be there—the best being that a warring tribe of Amazonians came and dumped baskets of vipers on the beaches to put fear into the hearts of the local population. In that they have succeeded, lo these many generations after the fact, or folklore.
My father is a herpetologist, and his specialty is classification of snakes. He has been from Burma to Brazil, examining pickled specimens in museums, data in obscure scientific papers and road kill. But his favorite thing to do is to collect snakes himself, and he was determined to prove the relationship of Caribbean snakes to South American ones.
He usually likes to find a local person who knows where the snakes hang out, but in the Caribbean that was quite difficult as most local people are petrified of snakes (and frogs, according to my Trinidadian cleaner). But on one of the islands he finally found a man who said he could show him some vipers who lived among the coconut palms.
At first, there were no reptiles in sight. The man kept flipping over coconut husks with his machete, digging deeper through the layers on the ground, until my father began to despair. Then, one! My father grabbed it. Two! Three! When they had five poisonous snakes in the bag, he was ready to call it quits.
"Can we take these and show them to the people in my village?" the man asked. "They have never believed me about the snakes."
"Sure," said my father.
At the village, he put his hand into the sack of wriggling vipers and plucked one out. The villagers oohed and ahhed. He pressed the head so that the venomous fangs showed, and they were duly impressed. Then he saw a large scorpion near his feet. A couple of Arizona boys had taught him to pick scorpions up by the tail, and he figured he was on a roll. "I could see myself as the seer for the village, with all the young virgins coming to me," he says.
He picked the scorpion up by the tail. It did not sting him. However, it was a very large scorpion, a few inches long, and it clung tightly to his other fingers with some of its legs. He acted cool and kept talking. But he was very relieved when it suddenly loosed its grip and he was able to drop it.
And, oh yes, there was a connection between the Amazonian and Caribbean snakes, he says, so there was "some truth somewhere along the line."


family prayer

Zachias Asbury Dowling, a circuit riding Methodist preacher, married Adelaide Josephus Glenn, one of his parishioners. Adelaide Glenn and her sisters, Barbara
Herndon Glenn and Claudia Glenn, were descended from James Elizabeth Glenn (no shit), who was a missionary to the Indians before he settled Glenville, Alabama, which is down past Montgomery.
Anyway, suffice it to say that it was a very Christian household. The family prayer during the Civil War era went:
"Dear Lord, please keep us safe from the Yankees and the Baptists."
To Zachias and Adelaide were born a boy, Herndon Glenn Dowling, my grandfather (who married Ada Camp—that's where the Camps come in), and three girls: Mabel, Lily and Claude. Adelaide and her three spinster daughters lived in Birmingham until they dropped off, one by one. When my father, Herndon Glenn Dowling Jr., was visiting the maiden ladies as a teenager once, he asked a neighborhood girl out to the movies. Claude went into a flap: "You can't go on a date with that girl. She's Eyetalian!"
Claude Dowling willed her portrait of Claudia Glenn, her diamond ring and a locket with somebody's hair in it to me. She would be rolling in her grave had she known her namesake became a Yankee and married a Jew. And there, standing in front of the portrait of Claudia Glenn (not that you can see it), is Claude's great great niece (and Claudia Glenn's great great great niece) (and Claudia Glenn Dowling's daughter) with her husband who has a Camp somewhere in his lineage. Yankee Camps.
But not a one of us is Baptist.


one night in okinawa

When Dad joined the Marines during World war II, at basic training he took a test to see how well he could shoot. Due to visits to his grandparents (and uncles) in Munford, he could shoot quite well. So well, in fact, that they decided to retest him. He aced the marksmanship test again. The Paris Island brass shrugged and said, "Well I guess that boy really can shoot."
Nonetheless, he was assigned to intelligence, largely map reading and liaison with the OSS (precursor to the CIA). As such, the sharpshooter did more getting shot at than shooting.
One night in Okinawa, zipped into a jungle hammock with a canvas roof and mosquito netting, a shell exploded nearby. He flipped the hammock upside down, tore open the top, fell on the ground and found himself under the mess table before he properly woke up. And never slept in one of those damned hammocks again.


would you like pie with that?

Or some hot sauce? Joined by everyone I know in Talladega, I continued my Local Haunts Review at the Pell City Steakhouse. It is in, as you might imagine, the bustling metropolis of Pell City and has some nice neon on the exterior. In the interior, you have the opportunity to enjoy local fauna not only on the tables, but overlooking the tables, at the tables (sadly the Elvis impersonator wasn't there last evening) and on the walls. The food was great, and so was the company. I think. Like 50 percent of the people at the table, being deaf, I could hardly hear a thing.


in the morning

I watched through the window as my father walked out to get his truck from the garage so he could go to the dentist to have his teeth cleaned. Now I know where my brother and I get our bad teeth from—other than no fluoride in the water. (Sorry, conspiracy theorists, I still think fluoride is a good thing.) The leaves were shiny in the first sunny day in quite a while. We were able to sit on the porch and bask at maddog midday—another inherited trait, apparently. And at night the stars fell brilliantly on Alabama.


plate lunch

In principal, the lunch special sounded good—turnip greens, corn bread, fried okra, meatloaf. In fact, however, I couldn't eat any of it. Even the turnip greens, which I didn't think you could wreck, were so much worse than the ones I cooked the other night. The only thing I really liked was the waitress's eye makeup. The Snake Doctor ate his fried chicken and his cake, but probably more because he was starving after having to fast for a blood test.
The place, called the Stampede, is always crowded. Me, I would think they'd all stampede on out of there.


3 am times 5

The dogs are a great big pain in the butt. There are five of them: Ellie Mae, Lucy, Kaya, Harley and Frasier. Each of them just wandered up starving through the Alabama woods one day and joined the gravy train. Now they feel entitled. Poor paunchy starving things.
The morning snack with cookies to sustain them until the big evening meal (5:00 and not a minute later—these dogs can tell time). The haring off after invisible prey with much baying. The pole cat smell one or two of them have, particularly when wet. None of this is particularly onerous.
But it has been quite cold in these parts lately (maybe you've noticed your orange juice prices climbing?) and thus the dogs want in a lot. And out. And in. Not so bad in the daytime. Last night, however, they all wanted in and out all the time. There is probably some kind of equation that could explain how this multiplies when there are five of them.

BTW for the fans who care: I will be in Alabama for at least another week.


block island rentals

Hannah's Hideaway is almost booked out (Labor Day week still available), but Claudia's Surf City still has August availability. I asked the Real Estate Lady why she thought that might be, and she said people find it too rustic.
What has not been mentioned is that it is one of the few houses right on Crescent Beach—almost all rentals on the island require driving to the beach.
And rustic? With a deluxe en suite bathroom in the master bedroom and possibly the world's best outdoor shower, I'm not sure why that should be. Is it the lack of a television? Surely the enormous library and record collection should make up for that. Not to mention DSL. Is it the furniture? I upgraded that last year. No one seems to think (other than me) that a hot tub would help.
The consensus appears to be that what I need is sheet rock and interior trim. My dilemma is that before I do that, I need to switch out the windows, which will require reshingling and retrimming. And I should really redo the roof first.
"I really don't understand these people," says the RE Lady. "Why do they want to go on vacation to live exactly the way they do at home?"
There is a small cohort, mainly old money WASPs and foodies, that actually prefers a bit of rusticity and Chambers stoves, and in hopes of attracting these folks, I posted a Craigslist ad.
Meanwhile, tell your friends and family that there is a place on Block Island where they can retreat from mod cons and get to know one another again. And rent it by clicking on the Claudia's link at top right.


family histories

Auntie Barbara (named after her great aunt Barbara Herndon, in the portrait above, as is my father—the Herndon part) is full of stories about her uncle Howard Camp, the Yankee of NYT September 22, 1917 fame. Yesterday, as we went to the Ark for catfish, we crossed a bridge. Years ago, my great uncle Howard bought himself a brand new Ford. He was driving across that bridge in the rain and stopped to give a man a ride. The man pulled a gun and Howard put his hand on the gun, knocked gun, man and all out the door and sped off. He neglected to change gears and fried his new car.
Howard didn't know his own strength. When a supervisor in a factory came after him with a wrench, he took the wrench from the man with one hand and clipped him in the jaw with the other. He caved in the man's face.
Howard married and settled down with an awful woman that nobody in the family liked. Only later did they discover that he had also married another woman in a distant town. After he was dead and buried, one day the grave was opened and his body went missing. We are not suggesting divinity here: The assumption was that one of the wives had robbed him.
But Auntie Barb will always have fond memories of Howard because of the time he slung her over his shoulder and rescued her from the top of a magnolia tree she had climbed before panicking.


aging in place

Joined Papa for lunch in downtown Talladega, where he forgathers with a group of guys on a semiregular basis. Yes, he is 88 and does not dye his hair. And yes, he drives his Mazda pickup himself. This is good news for Wolfen, who has four living grandparents in good health. By her age I had zero.
Dad had the famous Congealed Salad at the Cafe Royale. Sounds great, doesn't it?


north in the south

Due to deep freeze temps, an electric meter that blew up and a concatenation of events that was not entirely predictable, there was no heat in the house yesterday when CBA and I arrived from Atlanta. She held the African leopard tortoise in front of the fireplace to warm it until power was restored, fortunately before the pipes froze.
We think. Because, actually, the well pump burnt out as soon as the power was restored, so the water went out. This morning, still no water, so we are off to Walmarts to buy some.


winter dreams

Dream 1 I crawled up a branch of the huge oak. It reached a leaf down to my hand to help me climb higher. There was trouble in the forest, and the oak gave me two of its ready-to-fall leaves for the fight. I clung to the rough bark. A whispering came through the trees, "They come. They come." I clutched the leaves. I was ready.
Dream 2 The tide was very high, and the ocean came up to the porch. Nearby, a dolphin sounded and arced back into the water.
Dream 3 The Andrews family had made the cover of People magazine, including historical photos and current pix of each, and I got so excited that I grabbed two copies off the newsstand and forgot to pay for them.


squirrels at fedex

Rather than fruitcake these past few holiday seasons, people tend to send me pecans—which I also adore. Some of my faves come from Texas Kate. So it was with eager anticipation that I opened the box to find—yikes! Something had gotten into the box and then sealed it up again with tape.
I did not know rodents were capable of packaging. Do you think we should eat the remainder?


bright spots

Kathleen's friend Amy had her lamps and chandeliers featured in the New York Times Home and Garden section today here. Alas, they failed to list her website (designed by Kathleen's sister Susan Mock) with many more wonderful pix here. Check it out.


apartment therapy

Some websites to check out this week from around the East Coast.
For all those who have wanted a good look at Hannah and Chris's place in Rhode Island, check out Apartment Therapy today. Click on House Tour for many, many pix and the comments for some pretty gushing comments.
Another trendoid location features Donna Ferrato's photographs of Tribeca. Check it out (and buy a calendar with some of the work at her website).
And please note that the abstract impressionist painter Kate Knapp has a new blog, where she posts recent paintings of the Berkshires and Block Island—and there are always recent paintings, because she is always painting. You can buy her work at the site mentioned in the Apartment Therapy post. And around and around we go.


head 'em up

It looked like a moment of calm there for a second yesterday. J went back to her doggie and grandgirls, Peter left for work, the kids packed up the dog and the new car and headed back to reality. I paid the rent and started catching up on the NYT, which quoted one Dr. Taylor talking about delaying aging of the brain: “As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses. We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up." The article continues, "Continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you 'bump up against people and ideas' that are different."
Something came along this morning to scramble my plan of peace and quietude. So I guess I'll head off to Alabama in a couple days to bump up against some different people. It's ok. Calm is bad for my cognitive egg.


party pix tk

Can't find anything, like the cord for my camera. Maybe by Monday the dust will clear.