Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving has been dubbed Black Friday by retailers. This term has been twisted into a pretzel of shopping frenzy, even to the point of bedlam. Wikipedia and other online sources insist that the phrase became popular because the day after Thanksgiving was the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Wikipedia—perhaps a  contributor too young to have experienced the facts—gathered other online information to validate the article.  My father would have said hogwash! The generation before him spoke the somber words when referring to the nineteenth-century gold market crash.

Merchant bookkeepers, literally keepers of financial transactions, recorded the sales and expenses in ledgers. The most common was blue cloth with the texture of heavy linen. The spine was Symth Sewn with the outward corners protected from daily use with triangles of leather. The pages were divided by lines and columns where daily income and expenses were handwritten in the appropriate columns. The columns were tallied down, then across to the right. (FYI: This is where the phrase “Bottom Line” originated.) If expenses outweighed income, the bookkeeper wrote that final number in red. Back then, it was said that the bookkeeper put away the red pen the day after Thanksgiving.

My mother knew nothing of Black Friday. She began her Christmas shopping in the late summer during the grape cutting season or the early fall when cotton picking was plentiful. Long before credit cards when cash was king, she used the layaway program. Back then, no merchant would dare display Christmas items before Thanksgiving, but she didn’t wait for snowmen to be painted on wide glass display windows or silver tinsel to be draped over ornaments hung on Christmas trees. She searched the stores for gifts early. She used the layaway plan to pay fifty cents down and an equal amount every week until December. If she had postponed her purchase until the holiday shopping season, dolls for two girls would have been an unaffordable amount of one dollar every week. She guarded that palm-size layaway card with the diminishing balance handwritten by the store clerk after each payment. Mama paid the last half-dollar while we were at school or playing with neighbors and hid the dolls until Christmas.

Papa kept a ledger of family expenses down to the last nickel—perhaps the last penny. He wrote everything with an indelible pencil that turned to purple ink when he touched it to his tongue. He paid cash for everything. He didn’t Christmas shop and pretended not to know about Mama’s layaways paid out from her earnings money. That kept his books in the black—purple—every day of the year.

 

 

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Thanksgiving Memories

My mother always began preparations on Wednesday for our abundant home-cooked Thanksgiving feast with the main dish of turkey, ham, chicken, duck, or goose–sometimes more than one. Deviled eggs, black olives, pickles and cranberry sauce nestled among bowls brimming with homemade dressing, mashed potatoes or potato salad, and green beans. Mincemeat, apple, and sweet potato pies covered the kitchen counter. Occasionally, a fresh coconut cake towered over the pies, giving it bragging rights. Mama made room for other side dishes brought by my married siblings just before noon. Papa was serious about the precise time. We ate at noon by his pocket watch—not one minute earlier or later.

The adults sat with Papa around the food-laden table in the dining room. Mama seated the younger children at the square drop-leaf table in the kitchen. I ate in the living room with my twin sister and nieces and nephews our age, balancing our plates on our knees. Mama served everyone first and ate later. After lunch, the women washed and dried dishes. Children played on the covered porch. Men gathered in the tiny living room to talk. A couple of my brothers drifted outside for an afternoon smoke, forbidden inside our home.

The night before Thanksgiving, the smell of chicken frying in a cast-iron skillet wafted from the kitchen. The sweet smell of fried apple turnovers replaced the aroma of baking pies. I listened from the open doorway as my parents talked about working on Thanksgiving Day.

Oh, no! It can’t be! 

The next morning after breakfast, Mama packed the refrigerated chicken and turnovers in a sturdy cardboard box with eating utensils. She covered it with a tablecloth just as Frank, my oldest brother, arrived to take us to work.

I stepped down from the old Model A Ford running board. On the ground, I pulled the strap of my cotton sack over my head and under my left arm and shook eight feet of canvas between two rows of late-blooming white cotton basking in the early morning sun.

Five minutes before twelve, Mama stopped picking and spread the tablecloth on a patch of flat ground. Papa removed his hat, wiped his perspiring forehead with a handkerchief and checked his pocket watch. At noon he nodded to Frank to say a blessing for the food.

“Thank you, Lord, for family gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day. Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies so we can finish this field before dark. Bless the farmer who allowed us to work today. Prosper him abundantly for his kindness. Amen.”

Bless the farmer? Without him we’d be home heaping our plates with turkey and dressing and eyeing the tantalizing desserts, not eating cold fried chicken in a cotton field. My complaining thoughts were interrupted by my nephew’s voice.

“Please pass another piece of Grandma’s fried chicken,” he said. “It’s the best I ever ate. And, could you hand me a couple more fried apple pies. Grandma knows how to make them just right.”

The next year, the Wednesday cooking rituals returned to our home. About thirty of us gathered around the dining room at five minutes before twelve. My father checked his pocket watch. At precisely noon, he bowed his head and gave thanks for the abundant meal. While children waited for their plates to be filled before moving to the kitchen to eat, adult talk turned to the previous Thanksgiving meal in the cotton field. One of my brothers mentioned Frank’s prayer.

“No more picking cotton for that farmer. He did so well after that prayer, he bought a cotton-picking machine and put all of us out of work.”

 

 

Posted at 12 noon, Pacific Standard Time, Thanksgiving Day, in honor of my father’s pocket watch time.

Disclosure: Revised third annual post, my Thanksgiving tradition, adapted from my original story in Double Take (Carr Twins & Co., 2014).

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Apparitions – Ghost Riders or Ghostwriters

“Riders in the Sky” was written and recorded by Stan Jones accompanied by the Death Valley Rangers  (Mercury 1949). Jones, the composer, drifted away, shrouded by ghostly cowboys floating into obscurity when Vaughn Monroe’s RCA recording became more popular.

Ghostwriters (GW) are another secret veiled by the clouds. Their roles vary. Sometimes a GW  interviews a person about specific events and shapes them into a blob of words that eventually becomes an inspirational book. Sometimes the ghostwriter begins with another person’s notes or ideas and whittles them into a memoir or self-help book. Sometimes a ghostwriter cuts and clips a poorly written fiction manuscript and embellishes it until it gleams like a cowboy’s silver belt buckle. That—and payment—are his reward because the published book wears the name of the fictitious writer.

“But that’s cheating,” you say.

The ghostwriter says it’s payment for work similar to writing a technical report, or create advertising copy while freelancing or salaried by a company. I say it’s like picking cotton.

 

Property of Violet Carr Moore

My father approved of producing without bragging rights. We picked cotton for pennies per pound. Father carried the stuffed ten-foot canvas cotton sacks over his shoulder to the hanging scales. He penciled the weight in a notebook, deposited it back into the pocket of his work shirt, and hoisted the bag onto his shoulder again. He climbed a wooden ladder resting against a wire-sided trailer and emptied the sack onto puffy fiber from other laborers. The owner towed the overstuffed trailer to a gin where it was baled with cotton from other farmers. The gin sold the bales to a textile maker which produced bolts of fabric with their brand printed in the selvage (My father would have said selvedge, the  British spelling, but he had no interest in sewing—that was woman’s work.) My mother bought yardage from the local Five and Dime and made my clothes. From the remnants, she pieced quilts. The cotton we picked in it’s refined stage clothed and warmed us.

Today, I salute Donald Bain (March 6, 1935 – October 26, 2017), the ghostwriter of the “Murder She Wrote” novels accredited to Jessica Fletcher, the Margaret Truman Capital Crime series, and many other ghostwritten books. In 2003, he published Lights Out with his name embellished above the title on the front cover. That brought Mr. Bain out of anonymity into the spotlight. Now he receives recognition as the original books are republished with his name on the covers, but there may be a few still clothed in secrecy, like the cotton my family picked that wore another name.

Yi-pi-yi-ay, yi-pi-yi-o!

 

 

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Safest Place to Live away from Natural Disasters-by an information junkie

Julie commented about the safest place away from natural disasters in my September 4 blog, “Riding out the storm-don’t try this at home.” That post focused on surviving natural disasters include earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfires. The top three states for hurricanes are Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, but hurricane damage has extended past the Carolinas up the eastern coast to New Jersey.

Let’s look at the states most known for tornadoes. Stay away from Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Nebraska, Illinois, Colorado, Iowa, Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi.

You read about my brush with the California 1970 Laguna Wildfire. Raging infernos like that seem common in the West, but Fire Science shows Alaska as the leader with more than 19 million acres burned since 2002. Texas is second, Idaho third, followed by California in fourth place. Safe states now down to 29 (Texas is already on the hurricane and tornado list).  I witnessed an Arizona wildfire from the safety of Tucson. Even that had a touch of humor.

The mountain view was spectacular through a floor-to-ceiling wall of bronzed glass windows behind the pulpit and choir area. I was frequently distracted by a climber picking his way to the top on Sunday mornings. One evening, a blazing fire lit the hill. Apparently I wasn’t the only one distracted by the flames. About ten minutes into the sermon, the minister turned to face the fire. “Since all of you are watching the fire, I will too,” he said. We stared at his back until he finished his topic.

Statistically, every one of the 50 states has been touched by wildfires since 2002. Even Hawaii has a tiny count of 29 acres. Most of these natural disasters occur in the summer, so that might still give you a peaceful winter. Depends on where you choose to live.

My mother told me about inching her way along a rope tied from the house to the barn to feed the animals during a Oklahoma blizzard years ago. They’re part of winter the Midwest and Great Plains. If you don’t like whiteouts, scratch all those states.

Flood records are not as reliable because they’re often associated with other disasters.  I survived the 1983 flood in Livingston Parish, Louisiana—alone again through most of the rising waters. But that’s another stormy weather story.

More than 8,000 earthquakes have shifted California in the last year, many so insignificant they don’t make the news like Sylmar in my previous post.

Where or where can we hide? One website has narrowed the safest place from natural disasters in the US to a single city. Syracuse, New York. But I don’t like heavy rain—more than 40 inches a year there—and I don’t like cold weather—only four months with temps above 70.

 

I’ll take my chances here in California.

 

 

 

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Riding out the storm-don’t try this at home

I moved from sunny Southern California to Louisiana the first time in 1962 when my husband—I’ll call him Bill for privacy reasons—was discharged from the military. I disliked the year-round rains. My first brush with a hurricane three years later churned deeper emotions of fear and hate.

We lived about 300 miles north of the predicted landfall location of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, so I expected heavy rains. I could get through it with Bill’s help. But he was sent to the devastated coastal area to restore electrical utilities. I was home alone. I mopped up water from incessant rain that oozed in around the windows, ran down the walls, and puddled on the floor.

I breathed easy when we moved back to California in the late sixties —nothing to fear but wildfires winds and earthquakes. The Santa Ana winds dropped ashes from the 1970 Laguna Fire in our yard in Irvine, but no sparks. The Sylmar quake the next year shook me out of bed, but no major damage. One evening two years later, Bill said, “It’s getting too crowded here—too many people—we’re going home.”

“Home” was a disappointment. Low-paying jobs, heat, humidity, and unending rains filled my days. We moved to Southeast Louisiana where the pay was better but the rains were worse. Then we met Hurricane Andrew, a projected Category 5 hurricane in 1992. “Don’t worry,” Bill said, “it’ll slow down once it hits Florida. All we’ll get is  rain.”  Andrew swept westward. We were in the direct path.

Andrew strengthened back to a Category 5, then downgraded as he stormed our way. The voluntary evacuation order came to our parish (county to all you who aren’t familiar with Louisiana vocabulary). I left work in Baton Rouge and crept toward home in the outbound traffic. Bill was nailing sheets of plywood over the windows. “Are you almost ready to go?” I asked. “If I don’t stay looters will take all my shop tools. Gonna ride it out,” he said.

I would have felt safer in the truck high above flooded streets, but I tossed my tote and a bag of snacks in my sedan. In case Mississippi hotels were full, I added a sleeping bag, a pillow, and bottled water for shelter survival. Weather news said Andrew had slowed to a Category 4 when it hit the Bahamas. “No sense paying an extra hotel night,” Bill said. “Wait till tomorrow and see what happens.” The next morning, voluntary evacuation was replaced by a shelter-in-place order.

I peeked through silver duct tape crisscrossed on the kitchen door window panes. A neighboring pine bent double in obeisance to Andrew, the 80-foot tall branches touching our gravel driveway before returning upright, only to repeat the same bow. My view of the front yard through the kitchen window showed the ancient oak standing its ground. Between peeks outside, I hovered near the television watching the devastation Andrew had left in his path—until the lights flickered and we were left in the dark.

Without electricity we had no water from the subdivision well. We were campers, so we had prepared. We brought in buckets of rainwater from the wooden barrel for the bathrooms. We turned on the portable radio. We set up the Coleman camp stove. That evening we ate by light of the Coleman lantern. Sleeping in the heat of a boarded-up home was impossible. We soon used the last of the dozen radio batteries and the propane canisters. Then the phone died. We were cut off from everybody—our wise neighbors had evacuated.

The morning after Andrew moved on, we stood on the front porch, sheltered from the heavy rain, accessing the damage. A downed power line entangled in a massive limb severed from the strong oak sprawled across our driveway near the street. Bordered by a deep drainage ditch, we were still captives.

After a frustrating week, the rain stopped, and a utility crew arrived on our street. Their small gas-powered saw was no match for the oak limb. The saw stalled, then the chain broke. They borrowed our chain saw. My husband offered to do the first cuts. “That oak is tough,” he said. They refused citing insurance liability. He stepped back while they powered up his replacement. They made a few cuts before they broke his saw.

There were no looters in our country neighborhood. The chain saw was the only loss.

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IRS Discrimination-It’s the Law

I gas up my aging sedan at the Safeway pumps, my favorite refueling spot because it’s two miles down the road and gives me ten cents a gallon savings if I pay cash or use a debit card. What happens when I use a credit card? No discount. Sounds like discrimination—or at least favoritism—but it’s a law in California and ten other states. Hmm.

The Internal Revenue Service website brags that my civil rights are protected. Here’s the disclaimer from that website.

The Internal Revenue Service does not tolerate discrimination by its employees against anyone because of age, color, disability, race, reprisal, national origin, English proficiency, religion, sex, sexual orientation or status as a parent.

Sounds great, but shaky ground between truth and fiction. Since the IRS claims to avoid religious discrimination, doubtful anyone there would rely on the Jewish proverb, “Buy the truth and sell it not.”

Maybe that’s why the IRS stretches the truth in this ruling and discriminates against disabled people. How? By favoring people who drive for business-related purposes.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2017, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

  • 53.5 cents per mile for business miles driven. . .
  • 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes. . .

What? If I’m healthy, driving for work purposes to generate income, my deduction is 53.5 cents a mile. If I’m unable to work because of a disability, or I’m a retiree (age) headed to a medical appointment, I can only claim 17 cents as a deduction.

 

When I slide behind the wheel on my way to way to a doctor’s appointment, I check to see if I have my handicap card for parking. Then I give the gas gauge a quick pat. “Go lean on the fuel,” I say. “IRS discrimination sets the rules for this ride. It’s the law.”

 

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July 4 Celebration

My mother was afraid of deep water, a fear she transmitted to me early on. In spite of that, my married siblings insisted on celebrating Independence Day fishing from the banks of the San Joaquin River or picnicking beside a clear stream in the foothills. It was a break for adults to escape a mundane workday and for kids to have fun splashing in the water. Mama kept a watchful eye on me. If I ventured into water above my knees, she waded beside me and kept a firm grip on the back of my clothes. All that changed on July 4, 1954.

That morning, we dressed in our finest, buckled our polished shoes, and walked to church. My brother, Frank, and his family were there when we arrived. His youngest son, James Henry, sat in a far corner, arms folded across his chest, head down.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked Homer, his teen brother.

“He wanted to go to the river today, but Dad made us come to church.”

“Same for us,” I said. “Church comes first on Sundays. James should know that.”

“We always go to the river on his birthday, so coming to church today was bad enough. Then things got worse.” Homer looked toward James. “He’s nine today and he just found out that all this time we’ve been celebrating Independence Day on July 4, not his birthday.”

 

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