Making Things Fit
Somebody needs to be in charge of making sure things fit right in this country. Sizes that manufacturers put on clothes, shoes and things like that seem to be just estimates instead of accurate dimensions of the products.There are extra-large shirts and coats in my closet that are too little for me and some large clothing that’s way too big. They are various brands, so it’s obvious that Nike, Under Armour, Polo and all those folks use different measurements when they make stuff. My size 12 Adidas shoes are too tight, and the size 11 New Balance fit pretty well. Width doesn’t seem to mean much. I have shoes marked wide that are too narrow and some labeled medium that are plenty wide. All this might seem trivial in the overall scope of things, but I don’t think so. It’s time for consumers to start demanding precise sizing of products like we used to have in the old days. When I was growing up, baseball caps came in exact sizes. I could get a size six-and-three-quarters New York Yankees baseball cap from Sears that fit the same as the size six-and-three-quarters Springhill Sports caps I got at their concession stand. Caps now come with straps and gaping holes in the back that let folks make them much smaller or a lot bigger. The same cap can be adjusted to fit a new born baby or a full grown buffalo. Those are just not authentic caps. Mickey Mantle wore a size seven-and-a-quarter cap with no straps or holes in the back. We need caps like that again that can be shaped to perfection by leaving rubber bands around the bills of the caps at night. When the bigwigs at Eddie Bauer, Reebok and other companies read this, as I’m sure they will, I hope they will also consider my suggestion to quit making “slim fit” apparel. I have seen a lot of skinny people in my day, but clothes that come in slim fit sizes would squeeze the life out of the thinnest humans on the planet. My qualifications as an expert on improperly-sized apparel began as a kid when my mother and other neighborhood ladies started a hand-me-down clothes network. We all wore things that had been outgrown by siblings and neighbors and passed on to us. When I finished with the hand-me-downs, they were handed down to my brother. I was always just thankful that I didn’t have an older sister. Some of the articles of used clothing I got swallowed me, as my mother would say, and others were apparently slim fit. Even on the rare occasions when my mother bought me new clothes for church or funerals, she got them two or three sizes too big so they would last. She said I would grow into them. This problem with clothes not being sized right is more serious than ever because so many things are being bought online sight unseen. There’s no way with internet shopping to try things on, and sending stuff back or swapping for different sizes is nerve-wracking. Things not fitting right these days goes beyond problems with clothes and shoes. Try taking the cap off a bottle of vitamins or mouthwash or removing the top from a jar of pickles. Those tops were clearly not built or designed to fit the things they are on. You can’t get them off with a sledgehammer. Some kind of government regulation is also needed for these food storage containers. Regina and I cook big batches of gumbo or soup and put a lot of it in the freezer for later. The containers might work once but never again. When we try to reuse them, there’s not a single screw-on, push on or snap-down top that will fit on any of the bottoms. It doesn’t matter if they are color coded, square, rectangular or round, the tops will not fit the bottoms. We have dozens of tops and bottoms in drawers and cabinets. I spent an entire LSU versus Ole Miss football game one Saturday trying to match them up and finally threw them all out. My mother tried to prepare me when I was a boy to live in a world where everything would become wrong-sized. But I give up. America needs a guy who has been agitated by his slim fit pants to be the czar of making sure things are the right size.
We just got accustomed over the years to telling people who asked that we were from Springhill. That was easier than trying to explain to them about Cullen.
Nearly all the kids in that area went to school in Springhill, but we were a little closer to Cullen. That’s where the paper mill was, and most of our dads and some of our mothers worked there.
A lot of the mill families lived in the Pinehill subdivision and were close enough to the plant to hear all the horns, sirens and other mill signals and to smell the emissions from the smokestacks.
It was only a mile or so from our house to Cullen, I could walk there in 20 or 30 minutes, depending on how many stops I made along the way to visit other kids or take in the attractions.
I could run the errands that my parents sent me on to Cullen on my bicycle in about half that time if the dirt and gravel roads were dry. Bikes were pretty useless after big rains.
There were more stores in Springhill, but it was about three miles away. I was under strict orders from my parents during those pre-teen years to never go there without them.
That never bothered me because there were plenty of things for a young boy to see and do in Cullen and on the route from our house to that little village.
My parents would send me to Barrett’s Grocery to pick up milk or bread or sometimes a roast. Mr. Odell knew exactly how my mother wanted her roasts cut.
We had a charge account there like a lot of the mill people did. I could get soft drinks or candy and put it on our bill that my dad settled every payday.
I could take time going to the store to stop at the ballpark or the cement goldfish pond on First Street. But I couldn’t lollygag going home because the groceries had to stay cold.
There were never any goldfish in the goldfish pond that I can recall. People put catfish and bream in there and sometimes a bullfrog, but I never saw any goldfish. It was worth a stop anyway to see what might be swimming around in the murky water.
My favorite place on the way to Cullen was the big green baseball park where the Springhill Sports semi-pro team played. If the team was practicing, the gates were unlocked and I could go sit in the stands and watch.
Most of the kids in our neighborhood went to games there and paid a quarter for a seat in the outfield bleachers. We would get a foul ball once in a while, and they gave us broken bats that we could tape up and use in our own games.
But it was fun to watch practice when they hit long fly balls into the outfield with fungo bats, drilled grounders to the infielders and got in the batting cage to swing for the fences.
There was a huge tree just outside the park loaded with green pears. It must have been a community tree. Everybody picked pears to make preserves. Sometimes we would just polish one on our pants leg, eat it green and worry about the belly ache later.
Those were safer, saner times. There was nothing to be afraid of on those trips except bad dogs. Most of the dogs in Pinehill and along the way to Cullen were friendly and came up to be petted. We knew to run for cover when Husky was out of his fence.
I knew the combination to our mailbox and always stopped by the little post office in Cullen to pick up the mail. Most of the time, the lady at the window would just hand it to me before I could open the box.
Mr. Yates at the Friendly Bar would step outside and hand us kids bubblegum if he saw us walk by. He knew our dads.
It was worth slowing down at the body shop to watch them weld fenders and smooth out dents.
I usually had to stop by the drugstore to pick up medicine for my mother. Doc Burnham would give me a horehound candy drop from the pocket of his white druggist coat.
Then I had to rush home with the cold milk or eggs and couldn’t stop even to watch practice at the ballpark.
A lot of things got my mother flustered when I was growing up. She didn’t like it when we scuffed up her wood floors or slammed doors and made her cakes fall.
I understood the problems with the wood floors. We lived on a dirt and gravel road, and the red dirt we accumulated running around outside ended up on her floors and rugs.
So my mother spent a lot of time vacuuming and getting on her hands and knees to polish the floors with Johnson’s Wax.
The thing about the cakes falling always baffled me. She was convinced that if one of her cakes didn’t turn out right, it was because we had created some kind of jolt or impact to make the cake cave in while it was cooking.
That was important to my mother because of her reputation for making perfect cakes. Her coconut cakes and the chocolate cakes with the white stiff icing were always the first ones gone at bake sales and church dinners.
If my brother or I closed a door too hard or jumped off the bed and jarred the floor while a cake was cooking, we usually got whacked with a flyswatter or yardstick or whatever else my mother could get her hands on.
Regina and I both love to cook, and we bake cakes a good bit. My apple cakes are a bit hit at holiday dinners, and her pineapple upside down cakes are spectacular. I don’t remember any of them ever falling if we slammed a door or shook the floor.
To be fair to my mother, I grew up in a little frame house that was built up off the ground on brick pillars. So there probably were times when the floor quivered enough to mess up her cakes.
My brother and I reminisce about other things we did in our pre-teen years to get her stirred up and chasing after us with different weapons that stung a little but never really hurt us.
She hated it when we trampled her hydrangea bushes during football games, busted the streetlight with slingshots or nicked up her wallpaper in our plastic swordfights.
But the best way to upset my mother when we got a little older and started going to stores for her was to lose her S&H green stamps or forget to get them in the first place.
The décor in our house back in the 1950s was mid-century S&H green stamp. Lamps, picture frames, vases, pots and pans, ottomans, drinking glasses, tea pitchers, coasters and other stuff like that in the house came from the green stamp catalog.
Grocery stores, service stations and other places gave customers a certain number of green stamps for every dollar spent. The stamps were used to get things “free” from the green stamp catalog.
We had always gotten our groceries at a little neighborhood store where we had a charge account but changed to another store that started giving out green stamps. I think it was a Piggly Wiggly.
If I went there to pick up things for my mother and didn’t get the green stamps, all hell broke loose. If my dad filled up the car somewhere except the Gulf station that issued green stamps, he was in trouble.
My mother would stuff bundles of green stamps in a kitchen drawer until she found something in the catalog she wanted. Then my brother and I had to lick thousands of stamps and put them in booklets that were turned in to claim gifts.
I licked stamps several straight days for a new lava lamp when I noticed that I was losing my sense of taste. When my mother fried chicken, even the pulley bone I loved tasted like green stamp glue.
When the new S&H green stamp catalog arrived one year, my mother saw a hand-cranked ice cream freezer just like she had been wanting. I licked enough stamps to fill up the booklets she needed to get it.
The day it came in the mail, she mixed up a batch of homemade ice cream and even put some fresh figs in it from the tree in our back yard. I ate it but couldn’t taste it.
Later in life when I would get a bad cold and lose my taste, the doctor would narrow the diagnosis down to either the merthiolate my mother used to mop my tonsils when I had a sore throat or green stamp glue.
Visits to Dentist
Our little granddaughters enjoy going to the dentist. That, as much as anything I can think of, illustrates the colossal differences in our generations.
When the girls find out they have an appointment to have their teeth checked or cleaned, they are elated and look forward to it.
They love their dentist and the dental hygienist. They chat and laugh with them and like to pick out something from the “treasure chest” when they leave. They get toys instead of toothbrushes.
My boyhood experiences with dentists were limited, and I was grateful for that. I don’t think many kids had regular dental checkups back then. We just went to dentists for emergencies.
Most of the youngsters in my hometown literally got a bad taste in their mouth for dentists when our schools participated in the first fluoridation program any of us had ever seen.
I remember that time back in the 1950s when a dentist chair was set up by the flagpole in front of the school. Most of us had never seen a dentist chair and had to be told what it was.
A man and a woman in white medical coats were there to swab fluoride on our teeth. We were called out one class at a time to get the fluoride that was supposed to curtail cavities.
Looking back, I doubt if those folks were dentists, and I don’t think anybody ever told us they were. We were just instructed to stand in the hot sun that day until somebody put us in the dentist chair, tilted us back and mopped our mouth with fluoride.
Some of the students got an overdose or something, because their teeth got tan streaks in them. Fluoride treatments got better when they put it in toothpaste and water.
My first visit to a dentist after that was when I was diving for a fumble in a sandlot football game, hit a guy’s head face first and knocked a front tooth out.
I picked it up and put it in my pocket for some reason, and my parents took it with us when we went to see Dr. Tanner. I think he was the only dentist in town.
He must have been pretty good, because he sewed the tooth back in, and it never gave me a problem all through school or college.
But the first year I was working at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, it started to become discolored. A dentist there said I needed a root canal and a cap on the tooth.
The day before that procedure, I was at a Mardi Grad parade and a masked guy hollered at me by name to come get some beads. It was my dentist, and he was thoroughly intoxicated.
It would not have been necessary for him to give me any kind of anesthesia that next day. He could have just blown his breath on me and knocked me out.
There were other times in my younger days when dentists scared me. One of them when I was in college didn’t like to do fillings. If he found a little cavity, he pulled the tooth. I lost a couple that way.
Our coach who sent me to him said he was the only dentist he knew who could remove a tooth before your 15 minutes were up on the parking meter.
I’m not sure if it was worse having a tooth pulled or having one filled when they used those old drills that made about six rotations a minute. The Russians never tortured spies that much.
Fortunately, dentistry got extraordinarily better decades ago after some of my early life experiences in dentist chairs. My dentist for the past 30 years or so is especially gentle with me since he knows my dental history.
He said he still considers me the biggest sissy he has ever had as a patient, and he has learned to talk to me a while about sports and politics and things like that before he looks at my teeth.
One good thing about my dental anxieties, he said, is that my teeth are in pretty good shape and he has never had to do too much work on them over the years. It must have been those fluoridation treatments back in elementary school.
I really like my dentist, but I have told him that it wouldn’t kill him to have one of those treasure chests for his patients.
It should be a matter of concern for all of us this Thanksgiving season that the lady who invented the green bean casserole has died and there is financial turbulence in the Campbell’s Soup empire.
My mother stuck to traditions when it came to Thanksgiving dinners, and these new developments could drive American families even further than they have already drifted from those customs.
At our house when I was growing up, there was baked turkey, cornbread dressing, candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and giblet gravy every Thanksgiving.
To be honest, a turkey was cooked just to continue that ritual. My mother always baked a big hen, because all of us liked chicken better than turkey. But she did a turkey anyway for visiting kinfolks.
I never really liked the green bean casserole. To me, green beans are good by themselves, but the flavor of the beans gets covered up by the mushroom soup, soy sauce and other casserole ingredients.
That’s not to say that I didn’t always get a big helping of the casserole. Those canned French-fried onions on top were good, and I just picked them off and ate them.
In fact, there were a couple of times when my brother and I got into the can of fried onions while my mother was cooking the Thanksgiving dinner, and she had to do her casserole without them.This attention to green bean casseroles is important because Dorcas Reilly, who invented that recipe for the Campbell’s Soup company back in 1955, died a few weeks ago.
With her gone now, some of these non-traditional chefs and cookbook editors might start tampering again with the recipe. The Good Housekeeping cookbook has already replaced the cream of mushroom soup in the recipe with sour cream.
That is a problem for the Campbell’s company, which estimates that 40 percent of the cream of mushroom soup it sells in this country goes into green bean casseroles.
Campbell’s does not need any more distractions. An investor has been trying to unseat the board of directors of the company that has been controlled by the same family since 1869.
That news would upset my mother, who used the company’s soup at Thanksgiving not only in her green bean casserole but also in the giblet gravy that we poured over the dressing.
It didn’t have to be Thanksgiving for her to open a can of Campbell’s Soup. If we had a cold or sore throat, we got chicken noodle soup doused with black pepper.
Regina and I like the tradition handed down to us by our mothers of big Thanksgiving dinners built around the staples of turkey and dressing and the usual trimmings.
But we are guilty ourselves of some revisions in the holiday feasts that would probably not meet with the approval of my mother or hers.
For one thing, we don’t use that canned, jelly-like cranberry sauce that always jiggled on a separate plate at Thanksgiving dinners at our house. Regina makes her own sauce out of fresh cranberries.
Our mothers would never have made dressing with anything but homemade cornbread. We use Martha White’s cornbread mix and can’t tell the difference once the cornbread is stirred in with the onions, celery and bell pepper.
Most important, we don’t put giblets in our giblet gravy. We do use the drippings from chicken or turkey and some cream of chicken soup, but we avoid livers, gizzards and thing like that.
Like my mother, I would rather have baked chicken than turkey. We still observe the tradition of having turkey at Thanksgiving, but our parents probably wouldn’t recognize it.
We smoke turkeys on the grill, fry them whole in crawfish pots and even order them from smokehouse places already cooked and ready to eat. My mother would be flabbergasted.
She would also be disappointed that Regina and I have never in all our years of marriage put a green bean casserole on the table at Thanksgiving or any other time.
I apologize to my mother and to the lady who created the green bean casserole and died last month, but Regina and I just don’t like mushroom soup mixed in with our green beans.
It would be comforting to my mother to know that we will have the candied sweet potatoes that she loved so much again this Thanksgiving and will put even more butter and sugar in them than she called for in her recipe.