Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fiddle Dee Dee and Grilled Cheese

Isn’t it funny, the things that trigger memories and emotions for us? So today is one of those for me, it’s what I consider a beautiful Fall day, overcast and comfortably cool. Days like this always remind me of growing up in Alabama. Growing up Southern was quite an adventure and had a distinct fairytale quality for me, even to this day. Not that it was always happy and spectacular, Lord knows, my family took the fun OUT of dysFUNctional…..lol. However, there are certain things that will ALWAYS be close to my heart and put a smile on my face. So just for the heck of it I thought I would share a few….

~Rain: Yep, rain…..we never got much snow down in Alabama (at least not compared to the amount we get here in Connecticut), maybe a few inches a year, which was rarely enough for a snowman or snowballs yet would immediately shut the entire state down until it all melted, but that was it except for every couple of years or so when we would get about a foot and that would all melt in a couple of days. So ANYWAY, the idea of a white Christmas as a kid wasn’t all that “Christmas-y” to me. Rain however…that was another story. Rain STILL brings me happy memories of long warm Autumns, family Thanksgivings at Grandma’s, Christmas tree shopping from the Boy Scouts in the rain and leaves still falling off the trees at Christmas!

~Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: My mom LOVES grilled cheese sandwiches and when I was a little sprout whenever she would take me out to eat, she always ordered grilled cheese sandwiches with pickles for the two of us. Three of our favorite spots back then for the best gc’s around the Birmingham area were,

1) The “Giant Chuck Wagon Driver” Drive Through. Neither one of us can remember the actual name of it because that was the nickname we gave it, but when I was little there was a tiny little drive through near the Eastwood Mall that had a GIANT crusty looking, whip switching, chuck wagon cowboy on the roof. They had the best grilled cheese by default because they were just so COOL…therefore they were the top choice and I would constantly BEG my mother to take me there. I’m sure many times she took me there simply to shut me up. LOL.

2) The “Roller Skate Drive-In” Restaurant. Another one we can’t remember the actual name of, but I’m pretty sure it was located near Irondale and just a short way from the area where Fanny Flagg based her book, Fried Green Tomatoes (even though it was filmed in Georgia). I’ll tell you more about that in another post someday. So the roller skate drive-in was the best because they actually WERE the BEST. To this day, every grilled cheese sandwich I have or make myself is compared to them and they still are the best. Perfect melty cheese, perfect crispy yet sloppy buttery toasted bread….MMM….the fact that they skated the food over to us in cute little plastic baskets was just a benefit. LOL

3) Woolworths. There were many Woolworths all over the place as many of you know and remember…but the one in Vestavia had the best grilled cheese for yet another reason. Now, they were the best not for flavor, quality or uniqueness. They were the best because they had a counter to eat at and toothpicks with frilly stuff! Now, tiny as I was, there was nothing more fun than climbing onto the top of one of there chrome and pastel colored vinyl stools and watching the cook (dressed in mostly white and a little paper soda jerk hat) make the grilled cheese on the griddle. Ok, maybe there WAS something more fun than that…. The next step was then spinning myself round and round on the stool until not only was I dizzy but I nearly launched myself into the booth behind us. It was cute for a while, but when I was one step away from puking, it was no longer cute to mom. Now Woolworths also had an added benefit that made them the best…..TOYS. So after lunch we would roam through the aisles and I would reach up or climb up and finger all the goodies that were so nicely displayed in rows. Woolworths also had another distinct trait that stays with me to this day, the smell. Don’t make that face…..it wasn’t a BAD smell. It was a clean, dime store smell. It was a combination of clean crisp linen (from stacks of starched hankies and neatly folded pajamas), cardboard boxes, new plastic toy smell, and French fries. LOL….yeah go ahead and laugh but those of us that remember Woolworths, especially the one in Vestavia, I bet they recognize that smell. J

Of course, all three of those places are long gone now; replaced by bigger, better and more modern things….but the memory will always be fresh to me.

~The Birmingham Zoo: For most of my childhood, we lived VERY close to the zoo and the Botanical Gardens, so both of them became favorite haunts of ours. (You know you go to a place a lot when the staff recognizes you.) So anyway, I have many fun memories from inside the zoo over the years, but my FAVORITE zoo memory was actually far outside the walls of the complex. Because we lived so close, I remember on some nights when not much traffic was on the road and all was quiet in the neighborhood, I would sit on the steps of our porch and HEAR the lions roaring. I remember using my imagination and pretending that I was in Africa and the silhouetted trees in front of me were hiding a jungle of wildlife and hidden treasures waiting for me to discover them. It’s not a very big memory…but it’s one of my favorites as a kid.

~Gone With the Wind: Now as far as I know, they don’t do this anymore….but when I was a kid, you could count on several movies being played on TV every year, like clockwork. It’s a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, and Gone With the Wind. To this day all four are among my favorite movies, but the last one holds special meaning. My mom just adored the gentle kindness of Miss Melly and admired the fiery chutzpah of Miss Scarlett. We all agreed that while Ashley was a kind and gentle man, he was also a mamby-pamby wimp and while Rhett was a rough around the edges and boorish cad, he was also deeply in love with Scarlett and would have done anything to have her love in return. They were her literary heroes….although she would never call them that, trust me, they were. She wouldn’t throw out the common quotes and sayings of Scarlett that we all hear, like, “Fiddle Dee Dee” and she wouldn’t make us eat like piglets in private so we could eat like birds in public…no none of that. What she WOULD do however, is whenever times got tough, she would ALWAYS rally herself by saying, “I just can’t think about it today, it’ll drive me crazy if I do…..I’ll think about it tomorrow, after all, tomorrow IS another day”. She would then talk with GREAT affection about how she believed Scarlett and Rhett got back together because she had FINALLY come to her senses and realized she truly loved Rhett all along, and how she just knew that she would go back to Tara to gather her strength. Then as the conversation would progress, mom would inevitably bring up how her grandmother was on the board of movie critics in 1939. And how they almost banned the movie because that famous kiss was too long between Rhett and Scarlett and because it was the first time a swear word had EVER been in a silver screen movie (that famous last line where Rhett says, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”…wow…mild compared to today, but I digress). Of course there would also follow the stories of Sherman and the yankees (not the baseball team all you non-history buffs). When they came through, looting the homes, my relatives who were determined not to have the enemy touch their precious things, took all of the family silver, china and jewels and buried them in the back of the property. A great idea in theory, but there was such a rush as horror stories filtered in of Atlanta burning, that no account was made as to WHERE on the property the pieces were buried. So when they came back to retrieve them after the war, some pieces were hidden so well, that they were simply never found. So watching that movie, although a vast Hollywood epic, it does bring back memories of countless family stories I remember hearing as a little girl…and even now actually.

These are just a small handful of memories from growing up Southern….there are sooooooooo many more. I’ll share most or all of them over time….but these are my favorites, the ones I think of the most often. Of course, I’ve finally come to call New England home since my migration North 19 years ago…but I still love and cherish my Southern roots. Maybe that’s where I get some of my Pollyanna-ness….Scarlett and Melly…..hmmmm….food for thought.

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