Cedar Robes and Southern Food

My daddy’s parents, Granny and Granddaddy Davis, lived in Chickasaw, Alabama.  Their neighbors, the Coopers lived next door.  Granny called them Cooper and Mr. Cooper.  I can still hear Granny say their names in her southern accent, Coopah and Mr. Coopah. Granny and Cooper had coffee each day.  There wasn’t much talk. They would just sit and drink coffee.  My Granny and Granddaddy had moved from Uriah in Monroe County, Alabama in 1957 where my granddaddy had been a sharecropper.  He got a job out of Mobile as a cook on a tug boat.  Granny was born in 1911 and Granddaddy in 1905. Neither of them ever learned how to drive.  They were well-mannered and stoic country people. 

Their backyard backed up to Mt. Calvary Baptist Church.  They were members at  Mt. Calvary.   They were Christians, but I don’t remember them going to church often. Granny didn’t enjoy being around large groups of people.  She preferred to stay at home where she did beautiful embroidery and was a talented cook. 

I loved to visit my Granny.  In the late 1960’s we lived in Mobile not too far from them.  My granddaddy was a cook on the Albert S. He was away for weeks at a time. Most of the time when I spent the night at their house it was just the two of us.  Granny was quiet and reserved, and her house was a refuge.  We watched Perry Mason, and she cooked for me my favorite dish, macaroni and tomatoes.  I was always relaxed at Granny’s.  I never got into trouble.  I didn’t have to eat food I didn’t like. Granny didn’t spoil me in the sense that I got anything I wanted. She just didn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to do.  

The den was at the back of the house.  Outside that door is where family legend has it as a 3-year old I showed my precocity and theatrics.  My daddy and Granny were working in her yard and dispersing weed killer.  My daddy looked at me and said, “Cookie, don’t you touch that.  It will kill you!” referring to the poison.  In a bit, they went around to the front yard while I stayed in the back.  When they returned a few minutes later, I was sprawled out playing dead.  

I heard about death at Granny’s.  She would look out her window and peek out to where her good friend used to live.  Her friend, a neighbor, disappeared one day.  Her husband told everyone his wife had run off and left him and their children.  Granny said her friend would never have left her children.  “He killed her.  He killed her and put her in a vat at the power plant.”  That was the talk among the neighbors.  We never walked on that side of the street.  At Granny’s we stayed in her yard where we were safe, and we only played dead.

I loved going to Granddaddy’s room when he was away and smelling the cedar in the cedar robe chest where his Sunday suits hung and his dress hats perched.  We would go to the Banana Dock to pick him up and bring him home. It was always a treat to drive up to the dock and see the activity of the men returning from their travels. During his time at home, he would sit in his chair and patiently let me play beauty shop with him. I would brush the little bit of hair he had, and I would put barrettes and small bows in it.  He slicked his hair back with Vitalis which helped the hold the barrettes in place. Granddaddy was a gentle and tolerant man.  Granny and Grandaddy’s house was a quiet and safe place to visit.

In September of 1969, I was in the kitchen with Granny when my Uncle Leslie Laverne and my daddy came in and told her that Granddaddy had suffered a heart attack on the tugboat, The Green River Gal.  This is the only time I heard my granny yell. Chaos and death were in Granny’s house.  Granddaddy didn’t come back to that quiet sanctuary.  

After Granddaddy had died Granny’s house was still a refuge. Her neighbor friend never returned home, and her death is only speculation and lore. When I was a teenager, she moved from the Chickasaw house. I remember going to visit her with my husband when she was well into her 80‘s; she insisted on cooking dinner for us.  As always, on the menu, that day was my favorite, macaroni and tomatoes.  Granny was 90 years old when she died in April 2001. I inherited Granddaddy’s cedar robe.  The smell of cedar and the taste of good southern food endures. 

Eat One More Pickle You’re Gonna Get Sick


The Summer of 1968 was miserably hot and humid just like it was every summer growing up in Alabama.  But, Summer of ’68, I remember that one well.  Mother didn’t make me wait til June to go barefoot.  Since the temperature was warm on Easter of that year, she let me kick off my shoes after family pictures.  Dr. Martin Luther King had been killed on April the 4th.  I was sad because Loey, Lois Mae, my grandmother’s maid told me a man had shot him outside of his motel room. The day after Dr. King died I knew something was different.  That day we took Loey home just like we did every day.  We always drove right up to her house.  Loey told my Nana, “Stop right here, Mrs. Brewer.  You don’t need to go all the way over to my part of town.  It ain’t safe for you.  Just let me get out here and walk the rest of the way.”  Her large dark eyes were fixed and determined; they were sad and concerned.  I don’t remember Loey getting out of the car that day, and I don’t remember driving to her house.  Time just stopped. How could a man stand there in front of the big window to his motel room holding onto the railing just get killed?  How many times had my daddy driven our car up to the spot in front our room and gotten out and walked up the stairs?  Would they kill my daddy?  Loey told me not to worry that Dr. King was trying to help her people and my people didn’t like it.  I didn’t know we had different people.

Before school ended we played in my grandparent’s yard playing freeze tag and feeling the cool grass under our feet.  Mr. Rogers, a man who worked for my paw paw, lived with his mother, Grannie Rogers, near my grandparents home. They weren’t related to us, but she was always Grannie Rogers to us.  Paw Paw took care of Mr. Rogers.  Let him work when he was able.  When he wasn’t drunk.  I didn’t know what drunk meant, but I did know it wasn’t good.  I knew he stunk like overripe food and sweat.  I didn’t know that was the alcoholic smell of beer seeping out of his pores.  Grannie Rogers would spit into a metal vase.  It looked like something that should hold flowers.  I didn’t know any women who spit, so I would visit Grannie Rogers because she looked like a gnarled up witch spitting her special powers into her magic vessel.  My family did not look down upon Mr. Rogers or Grannie Rogers.  My grandparents were benevolent people who were always helping others.  I just thought they needed us.  I didn’t get too close for fear that she would cast some spell on me.  I had a morbid fascination with both of them.  I was taught that ladies sat up straight and didn’t spit unless it was the bathroom sink when you were brushing your teeth.  

The Rogers lived next door to a family I don’t remember who they were, but they had a son a few years older than me.  I was over there one day the beginning of the summer, and he took my hand and put it on top of his jeans where I knew I didn’t want to be touching.  I jumped up and took my hand away.  I wasn’t even afraid.  I remember thinking what an idiot to think I would want to do that.  I never told anyone, and I never went back.

June came, and my family and I went across the bay to my grandparent’s beach house in Bear Point, Alabama.  Bear Point was the setting for the idyllic childhood unless you are a precocious 6-year-old aware of the unrest around you. I played with my cousins and aunts who were close to my age.  We sang songs. This was the summer at Bear Point that my first brush with addiction surfaced.  We always had snacks in the summer.  We didn’t snack a lot during the school year, but in the summer we were allowed to snack.  I loved dill pickles.  I remember walking down to the beach and sharing a jar of pickles with my aunts.  I ate one and then another.  I picked up another one, and my aunt said, “if you eat another one, you’re gonna get sick”  I ate it anyway.  I got sick. 

We all went down to the pier to jump and swim.  One of our friends did a back dive off the pier and came back up.  Her face was bleeding, and we had to call an ambulance.  Her face had brushed the post of the pier, and the barnacles lacerated her face.  There was lots of chaos and screaming.  I never got near the barnacles after that. 

The Vietnam war was in full swing, and every night we said our prayers.  We always prayed for the boys overseas and asked God to bring them back home safely. We had family and friends who were fighting in the war.  Parents all around me were worried about their sons. 

The Easter season was supposed to be about hope and the summer about bare feet and the beach. Fathers were not supposed to be dying. People shouldn’t have been killing people who were different.  Old ladies were not supposed to be frightening children.  Young men should not have been preying on little girls. Soldiers needed to come home safely.  Bear Point was not about blood and ambulances.  I should have learned that one more is too many.    

Finding Her Divine One

(Several years ago I asked my FB friends if anyone wanted to talk about their spiritual journey.  I wanted to share the stories of many different people.  I think I said something along the lines of “whether you worship Jesus, Buddha, Johnny Cash or an Oak Tree I want to hear from you.”  I did have many people reach out to me and this is the first person I interviewed.  I wrote this in 2014.  I wanted to compose a book of these in the Ethnographic Style of Studs Terkel.  I have decided to add these to my Swizzle Stick blog. ) I hope you enjoy. Reach out to me if you want to share your story with me.  


In a law office filled with antique bound Punch Magazines, the Weekly publication of humor and satire which ended its reign in 2002 the reigning Queen Regnant is MD, a southern lawyer. Some people claim to be Southerners by the grace of God; MD claims it was a move to Georgia when she was 8 1/2 years old which gave her this regional pedigree. When I asked her about her spiritual upbringing she is quick to explain that as an army brat she was different; they did not go to church even though her mother’s family were Baptist from Missouri. Before moving to Georgia she and her family lived on an army base in Germany where her mother would tell them Bible stories, and they attended Vacation Bible School, but she is quick to point out they were not “total heathens.” When I asked her if she would have been a heathen if given the chance she replied without missing a beat, “No, because I always wanted to be Catholic because my best friend in Germany was part of a Catholic family from New Mexico.” She felt a sense of connection and life from the Sacramentals displayed in her friend’s home. When she attended Mass, she felt an authentic emotion and connection with God. After leaving Germany, her family moved to a new assignment in Georgia. The first question was always, “Now, where do Y’all go to church?” So, her mother “fell into the routine of taking MD and her brothers to the neighborhood Baptist church on Sundays.” MD is not sure if it was out of particular conviction or if it was because the other mothers in the neighborhood followed this ritual and it seemed like the thing to do. Her father who was originally from Iowa was not affiliated with any church, so he continued his tradition of staying home while his newly southern transplanted family created theirs. After leaving Georgia as a teenager, their family moved to Texas, which was more cosmopolitan with more opportunities to meet people. The church was not the center of each families social life, and Sunday became a day off. In 1972, MD was 16 the Viet Nam War was being fought there was counterculture, drugs, and hippies. There were young people who wore their hair long, listened to rock music, looked like real hippies, but they wanted to worship Jesus in a church unlike the traditional churches of their childhood which expected crew cuts and polished shoes. MD and her friends found acceptance and salvation in a non-denominational evangelical church. They found peace, love and Jesus wearing jeans and long hair. This church became part of her existence for 16 years. As she approached her 30’s, she began to drift away spiritually from the church. Also, at this time she began having health problems which consisted of migraines and gastrointestinal problems. Her church leaders became concerned about her because this was a sure sign of the devil and demons invading her body due to a lack of prayer and discipline. She was bored, living at home with her parents, and she didn’t date because of the church’s fundamental beliefs that this would lead to a path of promiscuity. She was unhappy and depressed. She was working at the public library at the time, and she began to read books about strong women a subversive choice for a young woman who was in training to be a Proverbs 31 wife. As a member of this church MD found herself being expected to be accountable to the church for all of her decisions yet the leaders had no one to whom they were accountable. As she covertly read books about the saints and their faith and the strong woman who inspired her she thought she was escaping and losing herself in their world yet, she found that she was finding her true identity as a strong woman of faith with no regrets and no shame. The books became a strong foundation for her life, and she said,” it was as if she stacked them on a glass table that finally broke and she broke free.” The facade was gone, and she still had the same faith and desires as she did as that eight years old seeking her truth and who desired an authentic connection and emotion with God.

MD made the decision to leave this church and go to law school in another state so she could become the woman she knew God wanted her to be and not what church leaders thought she should be. She carried with her more freedoms, but she still believed that she could still be this strong woman and still be a Godly wife. She converted to Catholicism in 1990 and continued to grow in spirit and faith. She met a man, and they married in 1993. MD gladly accepted her husband as the leader of their union, and she felt led by God to “bring him good and not harm and wanted him to be respected at the city gate where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.” Her husband didn’t want to lead; he wanted to control her. He didn’t believe “that charm was deceptive and that beauty was fleeting and that a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” He just wanted her to lose weight. He was demeaning and abusive. They divorced and she never lost sight of the most important relationship to her. Her relationship with God. MD said that “the evangelical church was the major conditioning which led to her abusive marriage.” She had allowed herself to please church leaders, her husband and so-called Christian friends instead of following the God of love and peace she felt like that eight-year-old who connected with very real symbols of what is now her very important faith as a follower of Jesus in the Catholic Church. She has no regrets because she has the steadfast belief that she is right where God wants her, and it is not important for her to debate with any of her old friends who continue to show concern at her choosing a denomination which they perceive she is being controlled by liturgy and symbols. Yet, MD is not controlled by her Catholic faith she is transformed by it. During mass, the Eucharist is a miracle and a mystery every time. She may be the Queen Regnant of her law office, but she knows the true divine one who guides her as she continues her spiritual journey.

Woman Walks Into An Art Gallery….

I am sure there is a Seinfeld episode about this.  A solo woman walks into an art gallery wearing multiple layers of clothing carrying a huge backpack and two bags of items she bought along the way.  She proceeded to meet and mingle at the event.  Who is that woman?  Yes, that was me last night.  No, I was not treated that way.  I was welcomed and treated like an old friend.  I did check my coats and items at the coat check.  

This is what happens when you meet great people who tell you about fabulous events in New York.  My friend, Bo, is from North Carolina.  He is a dancer with the Heidi Latsky Dance Company.  Yes, I meet the coolest people.  He’s young, adorable and he understands when I wear my pearls with my workout clothes.  He’s a southerner.  He gets it when I say, “Shit.  Bless my heart.  Forgive me.  I have an awful mouth.” He told me about this event where he was performing, and he thought I would enjoy it.  The affair was several events wrapped into one.  You know when you are watching TV or a movie, and you see a scene set in a cool art space in New York City, and you wish you could be there. That’s where I was last night.  In a cool art space with kind cool people being beautiful and diverse.  And, celebrating it.  

I would not have made it in the door without the inviting energy of Lucho La Torre.  Not only is his spirit kind and welcoming, but he is also drop dead gorgeous.  I was about 15 minutes early, and he personally ushered me in and introduced me to people.  Lucho is a friend of the founder of Positive Exposure, Rick Guidotti, and his partner, Herb.  Herb is from the north, but he is a University of Alabama graduate who shared great memories of his time in the south from 1976 to 1980. War Eagle.  Also, at the reception area was an exquisite ivory beauty with auburn hair.  She looked very urban and moved with style.  She is definitely a mover and a shaker.  Suzanne Manning is another southern girl who is part of this movement.  She hails from Greenville, South Carolina and she is with the Greenville County Medical Society and Alliance.  Suzanne was instrumental in helping Rick publish his book for Positive Exposure.  

My world got even smaller when Rick told me that he was in my town of Decatur, Alabama in October 2015 where he served as the keynote speaker for the  Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Awards Banquet.  What a pleasure to hear him speak highly of what our town of Decatur, Alabama is doing by opening  and engaging in dialogue about diversity in business in our community. 

I am an observer and I don’t want to speak for the organizations involved so I will share each website and what they are doing to combine art, fashion, and photography with diversity.  On a personal note all three organizations Positive Exposure, Diversability and Heidi Latsky Dance created a positive and welcoming vibe and an entertaining evening.  

Rick, the founder of Positive Exposure is an award-winning fashion photographer and a humanitarian.  He created “pop-up events” that make you want to be a part of all of these program advocates. Through art, narratives and community these three groups combine beauty and chic with the reminder that beauty is beauty if you are seeing it with your heart.  Rick was the man of the evening.  He orchestrated this event which grew out of his passion for advocating for “individuals with genetic, physical, behavioral and intellectual differences.”   

Beautiful photos adorned the wall showcasing models from various backgrounds and different levels of ABILITY.  Diverse ability.  Diversability was founded by Tiffany Yu to rebrand the way we look at people with disabilities.  Tiffany Yu empowers all who are in her presence.  She is a motivator, a leader and a shepherd in her community.   As Tiffany was being introduced to the audience they announced that one of her target areas is Montgomery, Alabama, my hometown.  Another Tiffany, Tiffany Johnson, is the representative in Montgomery spearheading the efforts of Diversability in Alabama.  What a kick to have Montgomery and Alabama be a part of such a progressive movement.  

Poised dancers in costumes of white fabric and clear vinyl whispered the message of purity and transparency on display last night.  The dancers were graceful moving statues throughout the evening reminding us that beauty is movement and stillness of the art. These performers were members of the Heidi Latsky Dance Company which was founded by, of course, Heidi Latsky.  I saw this adorable energy walking and mixing with the crowd as she drew people to her.  I thought, what a cute positive lady.  I want to hang out with her.  Later I realized it was Heidi Latsky.  Heidi is a dancer and choreographer of theatre, stage and film and is the artistic director of Heidi Latsky Dance. She combines diversity in dance and shared it with us last night.

Besides my friend, Bo, Heidi Latsky has other southern members.  As I was sitting and enjoying my surroundings and charging my phone with my portable charger, a young woman remarked that I was smart to do so.  When I spoke and responded to her, she said, “Where are you from?”  It must have been the proverbial, “Y’all.”  “Y’all  just don’t know how hard it is to keep my phone charged.”  Y’all is always a conversation starter.  The young woman, Caroline, is a dancer with Heidi Latsky Dance Company and is from Atlanta. That’s in Georgia. That’s the in the South.  Oh, how we southerners find each other! Caroline and I chatted a bit and with promises to meet for coffee.  I am sure we will get together.  Southern girls do that.  Keep our promises. We bid our goodbyes with a southern hug and a drawl, but not the continental hug and kiss on each cheek.  I save that for my NY or international friends.  Those of us from the south know we don’t do that two cheek kiss.  It would seem pretentious to do so to a fellow southerner.  

Last night was an unexpected blend of art, good company and a chance to be a part of a movement which reminds us that being different is the new norm. Different is good.  

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