A Miser’s Birthday

My birthday began in the nicest possible way after midnight, but before the slow clock chimed 12 times. David was lying on the floor near my feet with his phone, and I was reading the last of the day’s blog posts. He said quietly, “Happy Birthday, Gran.”

Texts and phone calls continued at a more normal hour in the morning, and I appreciated each one. Walking to the creek had one unusual pause. A trucker I nicknamed Fisherman was stopped in the service station. I chatted with him several weeks ago and saw photos on his phone of some of the fish he had caught. He jumped down from his cab when I introduced John to him, and we had a lovely conversation. He remembered John liked trains and mentioned several railroads in the area. He plans to go fishing during the holidays.

I’ve decided being a miser is acceptable, as long as I ENJOY pinching pennies and don’t hurt anyone with it. We had coupons for Burger King (where David works). Eating our breakfast sandwiches beside the stream near the rec center was most enjoyable. Of course, I appropriated one of the FREE sandwiches for myself and let them have the ones that cost money. Don’t remind me that we could all have had a cut-rate meal.

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My birthday cake was free! Our favorite supermarket sent me a Christmas card that included an offer of a free chocolate layer cake if redeemed before the end of the year. John asked the person behind the counter if she could write on it, and she did. No charge!

Son John $ was with us for the celebratory lunch at Sweet Onion and took a photo of us across the table. We had chicken schnitzel, and he had turkey meatloaf. The food was interesting and delicious.

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Our friends from Alabama were already at our house before we got home. We had a nice visit, then they had dinner in their camper. David took a selfie of us as we were about to cut my free birthday cake.

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Marty and Ron joined us for cake and added lots of animated conversation to our party. They kept us spellbound with their tales of travel around the world.

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I felt the day was a fitting celebration to mark the 75th time I’d had a birthday.

75!!

Our son, John $, declared that we could not let John’s 75th birthday slide by without some signature celebration. Other family members were far, far away, so it was up to us. The night before the big day, $ sat with us, phone in hand, to plan it. He remembered John’s mentioning that he’d love to have a prime rib dinner with horseradish again some day. That came out several weeks ago when he was talking about working in London in the 80’s. Two steak houses went on our mental list. Because of John’s love of history, we knew something historical needed to be the focus of the day. I had already faded at that point, so the next day I got up not knowing where we were headed.

North Carolina narrows to a point on the western end, and we live in that triangular area. By driving north, we came to Tennessee. The mountainous scenery on the interstate was spectacular. A few minutes after putting gas in the van, John asked, “Did you hear that? What was that?”

I thought a noisy car had passed us, but the fellows felt the sound had come from our vehicle. Every once in a while we heard it. To me, it sounded like a few pebbles dropped down and hit the underside. The road out of our area was recently graveled. Maybe we had picked up small stones that were dropping. The noise was irritating but not worrisome at that point. As we drove through Johnson City, I asked where we were going. Our destination was Rocky Mount, one of the earliest homes in the area of the Southwest Territory, which later became Tennessee.

We saw no other cars or any sign of life at the visitor’s center. $ tested the door and found it open as another couple pulled in. A friendly receptionist explained that the tour would take about an hour and a half, so if we’d take a bathroom break, she would get the introductory film ready. What a lovely experience we had! The five of us had individual attention from the docents who had donned period costumes and assumed characters of the 18th century while guiding us through the old house. A daughter of the family showed us the great room with her mother’s desk that had a secret compartment. The one chair in the room was reserved for her father, although her mother was found napping in it once in a while. Going upstairs to her parents’ bedroom, she explained that an important visitor was with them, so he was given their room. They slept across the hall where their children and grandchildren normally stayed.

We were handed off to her daughter who showed us her grandfather’s dark study. The place was self-sufficient, since they lived far from the village of Jonesborough. They made their own ink from black walnuts. Going into the dining room across the dog trot, she explained the purpose of a two-tined fork and a knife at each place setting. The fork was for holding food steady on the plate. You used your own knife that you wore at your waist to cut the food. And the table knife? That conveyed food to your mouth! Although shaped like a knife, it had no sharp edge. The daughter said it was hard to learn how to eat without making a mess. Adults ate alone with one child in attendance to wave a fan, keeping the flies moving. There were only two meals. Breakfast was often fruit and cream, and dinner would be a simmered stew.

The daughter took us to a separate building where a black slave showed us how she cooked. Baking was done only one day a week. She showed how to prepare the brick oven. First thing on the list was bread that took the hottest fire. Loaves were put directly on the coals! After that came pies, and cakes were last because they took less heat. It was her opinion that many women died when their long skirts caught fire in the huge fireplace where all the cooking was done. Roasting a turkey or other meat in front of the fire was done only once a month. The butter was churned by hand as she sat in a chair rigged with a foot pedal. The pedal moved a cloth over her head to keep the flies away. As we left the area, she pulled various herbs from the garden, telling us how they were used. One herb worked as a laxative, so on the way to the outhouse, you grabbed leaves of lamb’s ears in case there were not enough corncobs. I giggled to myself, knowing there were more lamb’s ears in my garden than any other plant.

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Daughter of the house, John, John $, the cook, other tourist

We spent quite a bit of time in the museum after the tour. Surprisingly, John was ready to go before I finished looking at things! He was aware of the time and knew we needed to eat a light lunch if we planned to eat dinner at a reasonable hour. We found a fast food place in Johnson City and then drove on back roads to Jonesborough. The car made funny noises again, but we weren’t going far. There seemed to be more racket when we were out on open roads. Anyway, $ had wandered around Jonesborough early this year and thought we’d enjoy it. In stark contrast to $’s other visit, the town was bustling with cars driving through and people walking on the sidewalks. This town was the first settlement in the area, becoming the center of government. It still boasts a large stone edifice for the county courthouse. I loved seeing the outside of the International Storytelling Center. That seemed to be the main attraction of the present day. There were numerous bed and breakfast places, antique shops, eateries, and two candy stores. I took a photo to show John enjoying a birthday phone call from sister Barbara and Thom.

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The Johns on Jonesborough’s Main Street

On the way home, we got on the interstate where the car sounded like something was going to fall off. $ wondered if we had mudflaps that were doing more flapping than mud slinging. We pulled off, and he walked around the car, looking high and low. He could see nothing out of place. Back on the road, John exclaimed, “I know what it is! There is a rubber piece over the door that the wind is catching.”

We went to the nearest town, checking Walgreen, a convenience store, another large drug store, and a supermarket. Finally they found duct tape, and we were shortly on our way in peaceful silence.

We ended up at J. Arthur’s, a steakhouse in Maggie Valley. Surprisingly, the parking lot was full, having only two empty spaces. There were also about 20 motorcycles parked there. Maggie is a magnet for motorcycles, probably because bikers love mountain roads. There is also a biking museum in the town, “Wheels Through Time.” Although the dining room was almost full, we were immediately seated at a booth at the far end of the room. As the waitress came up to our table, she said, “Just want to let you know that we are out of prime rib and mashed potatoes.”

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Happy 75th Birthday!

Oh, dear. The specials included fried oysters, which tempted John for a minute, but he and $ agreed to share a rib eye steak. If the birthday boy had meat on his mind, steak would be the second choice. $ asked if they had horseradish, and our waitress brought it out immediately. The day was saved! We didn’t save room for dessert and toddled off homeward, sated and happy. It’s just as well we didn’t want a sweet, because I hadn’t bought it yet. The request was for angel food cake, which was on the shopping list and not yet in the house. We brewed a pot of coffee and sipped it while chatting on the back porch. There we rehashed the day, talking about the things that we had enjoyed. I loved a gizmo in the dining room of the Rocky Mount house. It was a wrought-iron rod with a handle at one end and a curved U-shape at the other. We couldn’t guess what it was, so the docent demonstrated. Her grandfather loved hot coffee, so he would hold the rod in the fire. When it was hot, he plunged it into the coffee in his cup. Ah! Better than a microwave!

Happy 75th!

The gathering for my brother’s birthday immediately turned into a family reunion. Bob’s local daughter Julie was the first to come after we got there, and daughter Susan arrived with Sam and Kate after rush hour. We wanted to know if Sam, with a brand new learner’s permit, had been in the driver’s seat for the two hour drive. No, all agreed that going on an interstate in darkness and heavy rain would not be a good start for the weekend. Sam had been up a long time, too. He catches the school bus at 6:15 every morning. *Shudder*

Kate, Kathie, John, Beth, Bob, John, Susan, Julie, Max
Kate, Kathie, John, Beth, Bob, John, Susan, Julie, Max

After a brief catch-up period of conversation, we got down to the business of telling family stories. As usual, the person on whom many of the tales were based, was my dad. He was a real character who could never be contained by one blog post.

My favorite of the evening was Beth’s quote of a local man describing a severe storm that hit their small South Carolina town near Florence years ago. The man said, “Trees blowed down that ain’t never been blowed down before.”

Beth and Bob
Beth and Bob

Let me tell you, it is dangerous to miss a meal at a reunion. I shall refer to the absent one as s/he. The s/he in question went shoe shopping with a daughter. It was back in the days when clerks were paid to bring shoes to you from the back room. The daughter removed her shoes in readiness, but s/he did not. Only when the salesperson brought boxes out did s/he take off his/her shoes. S/he requested a different size, put his/her own shoe back on and only took it off again when the clerk returned. The daughter asked aloud, “What is wrong with you? Normal people keep their shoes off!”

That story was bad enough, but more was revealed over sausage and eggs.   The spouse said, “You think that is crazy. You ought to see him/her get out of the shower. S/he dries off in the shower, balances on one foot, and reaches out with his/her toes to position the slipper and get it on. More balance is required to get the other slipper.”

The reason was revealed in both cases. The spouse quoted his/her explanation, “I don’t like my feet to touch the floor.”

I thought the birthday meal was as tasty as it was unusual. We had Hamburger Vegetable Soup and White Chicken Chili. The weather cooperated by being chilly, so these hearty dishes fit the day perfectly. I believe Sam made the cornbread muffins. Beth baked a delicious spice cake with caramel icing, both being Bob’s favorites.

Beth, Bob, grandchildren Sam, Max, and Kate
Beth, Bob, grandchildren Sam, Max, and Kate

Adults continued chatting as the young people went on the deck to shoot Bob’s BB gun. Beth took a turn, too. I’m thinking I should have tried it so that I could no longer say, “I’ve never shot a gun in my life.”

The birthday balloon was parked sedately in the living room until after dinner. The

Pop up balloon
Pop up balloon

young set played with it boisterously, even taking it outside. Max clipped it to Sam’s shirt at one point. The three also passed it back and forth from the top of the stairs down to the living room. Beth wrote later that when they came home from the symphony concert, they found the balloon drifting around in the breakfast room. Thank heavens it didn’t rise to the top of the cathedral ceiling. That happened once before, and the movement set off the alarm system.

You may have noticed that there is no direct quote from Bob here. My bro has never been loquacious and didn’t change his normal mode for the day. He did thank us and tell us we made his day. I believe him.

Sam ready to drive home
Sam ready to drive home