Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell



8 Days: Brown’s Ole Opry

fullsizerender-11 In a little barn at the end of Timbermill Road, the world becomes a very good place on Friday nights. It’s cold outside- there’s a chance of freezing rain-  but inside the room is the kind of warmth that defies a mid- winter cold snap. The room bears none of the decorations which have come to symbolize “Christmas” in our contemporary society. No Christmas tree, no dangling strings of Christmas lights, no mistletoe as far as I can tell. Instead, you can recognize that it’s Christmastime in this particular segment of the South by the array of festive holiday sweaters adorning the womenfolk and a very tall man wearing a Santa hat and white shoes with heel taps.

The place is called Brown’s Ole Opry. Located in the small town of McCleansville, a 15 minute drive but a lifetime away from our home in downtown Greensboro, Brown’s Ole Opry is found at the end of a small side road flanked by tobacco barns and modular homes.

We are greeted by smiles and hellos from several dozen “regulars”. Tonight my co-worker and good friend, Dick Franks, is playing guitar on stage with a group of pick- up musicians, as is his monthly gig. Dick is one of those people with a keen mind, quick wit and an eternally youthful outlook that makes him seem younger than most people half his age, which I won’t repeat on account that he’s my boss. When he sees us walking in, Dick gives us a quick nod without missing a beat. I see another of my co-workers, Pat Robinson, here to support Dick, as well. Pat is perched on the bench seat lining the wall on the other side of the room. When she spots me, she hollers, above the din of guitar, banjo and fiddle, “Well, there’s Su-san!” Pat is one of the few people I know who is louder than me, a surprising statistic considering the fact that she is barely 5 feet tall with feet the size of a ten year old. Tonight, Pat has her sassy on and I comment on the serious biker’s jacket that covers her petite frame.

The band sounds really good- there’ s maybe 6 or 8 musicians- in fine form, jamming on-stage. Mounted to the rafters above their heads is a large framed American flag and a series of large, mismatched photographs standing guard over the assembly. The photographs, I learn, are the now deceased brothers and sisters of the proprietor, Mr. Brown, who at 94 years old is seated in his usual seat on the back row. From this vantage point he can enjoy the comings and goings of his lively guests by either shaking your hand or giving the ladies a peck on the cheek as they walk by.

When I ask Mr. Brown how many years he has been doing this, his answer is simply, “a long, long time.” Some of the other folks tell me this has been going on for more than 40 years. Used to be, this venue operated both Friday and Saturday nights, where numerous bands would set up both inside the barn and out buildings, where musicians spilled out onto the grassy knoll with a view to a large pond in back. These days, it’s just a Friday night venue. I could joke how one night a week is all these folks (most of them a certain age) could handle but that would be a flat out lie. The truth is that most any of them have more energy than you or me.

Over the course of coming here, 3-4 times since last summer, I’ve learned the names and the faces of a few of the “regulars”. There is a spirited redhead, a lady named Diane who has been kind enough to try to teach me to “flat foot”, a dance my mama used to do. I will admit “flat-footing” didn’t look like much of a dance when I watched mama doing it, but seems much more difficult when I am the one trying to do it. If feet could get tongue-tied, that’s what happens to me; I shuffle my feet a few beats before I think too hard, trip up and have to start over again. I love it that nobody here cares whether or not I can dance very well. One of the ladies pats me on the hand and says, “Honey, at least you are having a good time!” Diane moves across the floor effortlessly, all smooth and easy. She is a favorite dance partner with the menfolk and I love watching her interact with them, smiling, animated and attentive.

Pat and I strike up a conversation with a smartly- dressed lady wearing a leopard- skin top, long gold necklace and an expensive pair of shoes she says she bought from Arthur’s Shoe Store here in Greensboro. After we make our introductions, the lady- whose name is Tiny-  explains, almost apologetically, that she used to be “tiny” but now she is not. Tiny says she likes shopping for nice shoes and clothes since her husband died several years back. Now, she says, she simply buys whatever she wants. We also admire her large beautiful ring, which she says is a fake. Her beautiful “real” jewelry, she says, was stolen a while back when she was out-of-town by a contractor working on her house.

Since my contact at the Greensboro News & Record had just spoke with me earlier that day to say she would be featuring one of my Christmas stories in the newspaper the following week, I shamelessly inquire with Tiny if she reads the local newspaper. Tiny explained that she reads the Obituary Section every day to see if her former boyfriend had crossed the river.

Something tells me that she’s hoping his ship will sail sooner than later…

There’s a man Perry and I call “Happy Feet” whose dance moves most closely resemble the little penguin of the same name. Happy Feet flaps his arms and stomps his feet, jumps straight up and then over and generally commands the show. Most people would have a heart attack just attempting these moves.

Pat, in her biker jacket, has attracted the attention of another of the “regulars’ in the crowd. When she returns from a waltz, she tells me that he dances somewhere or another almost every night of the week. I imagine this man is somewhere in his seventh decade, but he smiles as he says plainly, “I feel sixteen.”

I don’t know it at the time but Perry is planning to ask me to dance. His plans are thwarted, however by a rival in the group. Vernon is in his 80’s but he beats Perry to the punch and wheels me out on the floor and instructs me how to follow him three beats to the measure. I step on his foot a few times but he doesn’t seem to mind. We laugh and talk and before you know it, I forget to care at all about what my feet are doing. It’s all about having a good time here on Friday nights at Brown’s Ole Opry.


A Touch of Royalty

West Davidson High School Class of 1980: Susie Swicegood, Tracy Bauernfeind and Lisa Jacobs
West Davidson High School Class of 1980:
Susie Swicegood, Tracy Bauernfeind and Lisa Jacobs

Along with soft sweaters, pumpkins and the red tinged leaves of the dogwoods, I am certain that fall is in the air when my husband mentions going to the the county fair. When I was young, my family attended the Davidson County Fair but these days, it’s the larger Dixie Classic in Winston- Salem. At the fair, my husband, Perry’s goal is to eat his way around the midway in search of the perfect cheese steak sandwich, hamburger and bowl of chicken and dumplings while I look forward to the fried apple fritter that comes at the end in “Old Time Village”. In between, we pass the carnies hawking their games, listen to kids screaming above rock music on the Himalaya, stroll through the wilted flower, art and photography exhibits and of course visit the livestock barn. This is when the goading starts. Perry says, “Honey, don’t you want to get on stage? Doesn’t it bring back memories?” We are walking close together and he elbows me. He laughs and makes a sound like Dr. Evil.

Now, there’s no need for you to curtsy, No, no, save your knees. But lest you forget let me remind you from the comfort of my Birkenstocks and mom jeans that once I was a Beauty Queen.

For those of you who know me, you know I am not Beauty Queen material. I am not sure  how I earned this honor, but thirty-five years ago, I was somehow elected to be my high school’s representative in the Miss Davidson County Fair Pageant. I certainly felt inferior to the other queens. Our school’s “Miss West Davidson” was the beautiful Lisa Dawn Jacobs. Even Lisa’s name was pretty. Twenty years after we had said goodbye to our Candies and shoulder pads, she still had the same Farrah Fawcett hairstyle yet appeared ageless and completely in vogue. As part of her duties, Lisa rode atop a convertible wearing a beautiful dress and fur wrap for our town’s Christmas parade. She had long since mastered the queen’s wave. Lisa was stunning.

The next queen was our school’s Homecoming Queen. My best friend, Tracy Bauernfeind won this esteemed honor. As I recall, this queen was voted on by the football players; therefore this queen had to be a lot like Sandra Bullock: beautiful, well- liked by the guys and not a skank. Tracy was and is beautiful. Clean as a whistle. Because it was 1980, Tracy also wore her hair in the same Farrah Fawcett hairstyle as Lisa Dawn Jacobs.

The third Beauty Queen, Miss West Davidson County Fair was arguably not a beauty queen at all. As I recall, she simply had to be liked enough by her class-mates to be voted in, which of course means she could not be hated by most of them. This eliminated many of the beautiful and truly popular girls because many of them were not well- liked. I was too non-confrontational to have a beef with anyone and besides, I got bonus points since I grew up handling livestock and driving a tractor.

On the day I heard my name announced over the intercom, I could not believe my good fortune. What an honor! Yet, my thoughts quickly turned to dread when I began to wonder what I would wear. I was a tomboy and had not actually worn a dress since the fourth grade. My sister generously stepped in to assist in my transformation.

The single duty of our high school’s representative would be to compete against girls from the other area high schools at our county fair. The judging was held on a Thursday evening at the fair grounds in the same barn and on the same night as the semi-final judging of the cattle and other livestock. Every year my husband points out this was no coincidence.  “You know the fair organizers used the same judges for the Queens that they used for the Holsteins”, he says and I’ve no doubt he’s telling the truth. In the afternoon, Elsie the cow was led in wearing her new stiff black halter and in the evening, I wore the equivalent ensemble, courtesy of my sister and The Dress Barn. When nerves almost caused me to have an accident in my underpanties, I only needed to look offstage to the right and feel comforted that Elsie had already broken that ground for me!

Any bit of false confidence I might have felt vanished as I walked onto that stage. Hundreds of pairs of eyes in the audience and the distant mooing of Elsie and her friends made me feel as conspicuous as a cow headed for the slaughter house. I made it down the runway on my 4″ heels without falling on my face or tackling the other contestants, but whatever occurred at the end of the ramp I cannot recall. Anything could have happened. Were there questions about starving children in third world countries or feeding the homeless? Was there a swim suit competition? Did I yodel or play chopsticks on the piano for the talent competition?

This, I do not know for sure.

I do believe, however there is an inner mechanism that prevents us from processing too much trauma. Mine kicked in whenever I reached center stage that night. I froze. I am certain Elsie the Cow, chewing on a cud, looked more intelligent than I did that night. My husband still teases me that when I was asked a question by the emcee, I simply stomped my hoof two times for “yes”, and three times for “no”.

He’s merciless, really… 

Needless to say, I did not win. I apologize to my classmates with whom I most surely let down. I feel bad my sister worked so hard in giving me a beauty overhaul. Personally, I confess, any regret I have over my failure to bring home the blue ribbon sash stems  more from a personality flaw of competitiveness rather than vanity. Admittedly, I am a little sad I will never again be a Beauty Queen, but then again, a tiara just wouldn’t be appropriate for the rest of my wardrobe.



Misadventures in Turkeydom

ATT00040This is my 22nd year hosting our family’s Thanksgiving. Like most folks in the south, we’ll enjoy a traditional meal of turkey and ham, stuffing, sweet potatoe casserole, cranberry salad, green bean casserole, devilled eggs and pumpkin pie. Unlike the early years, I no longer feel compelled to make everything from scratch. Costco sells a terrific ham and if you don’t mind paying extra, the Honeybaked Ham Store’s smoked turkeys are hard to beat. yet I can still recall the excitement I felt nearly thirty years ago as I prepared to cook my first turkey. Although I’d never cooked one before, it never occurred to me that it could be all that difficult. Armed with  my 1980 edition of The Joy of Cooking, I encountered the first of many misadventures in turkeydom. This is what I learned…

1. If a grocery store is advertising its Thanksgiving turkeys for a ridulously low cost, the turkey will be so large, it will not defrost until Christmas.

If you are like me, you love a bargain and you will have visions of a Martha Stewart feast dancing in your head. You will not immediately realize that this is a really, really large bird. You will probably think “Wow! This is great deal!”

After purchasing a 25-30 lb. frozen turkey many years ago, I discovered it takes approximately six weeks to thaw a twenty seven pound turkey in the refrigerator which they define as the “preferred method”. Of course, your refrigerator is well-stocked with all the other ingredients you need for your holiday meal; the turkey instructions do not  say that unless you own a commercial size refrigerator, there will not be enough room in your refrigerator for the giant turkey. It also does not say you will need to buy a new larger roasting pan to hold the giant bird and perhaps a new commercial oven, as well.

Fresh turkeys are best but they cost ten times more than a frozen turkey. You will know you have finally “made it” when you skip the sales on the frozen turkeys and buy a fresh turkey.

Old people always insist on buying a turkey breast. In their thin patronizing old people’s voices, they they talk about how tender their turkey breast is and insinuate they wouldn’t want a whole turkey anyway. Personally, I do not think turkey breasts look anything like a turkey. A turkey breast could literally be any kind of meat: pork, ostrich, buzzard or an overweight chicken. Early on, I decided that when I served my Thanksgiving turkey, by golly it would look like a turkey.

Note to self: This year I am serving a turkey breast. I guess I never “made it” and now I am old. (You cannot hear me but my voice has become thin and patronizing…)

2: Most turkey recipes assume the chef knows a little about Turkey Biology.

When I began to prepare my first turkey, no where in the cookbook or the fine print on the package thought to clarify this very important question: how many holes are actually in the damn bird? That year, I discovered two of the three holes that I was searching for; unfortunately, I missed the third cavity that contained the little plastic bag of giblets. Now I know there are at least three cavities in a turkey although based on my previous experience, I live in fear that there is another one hidden out there like Pluto, just waiting to be discovered.

I discovered there is a neck hole which bears a resemblance to a hole at the opposite end. I believe the second hole is the poopy hole but honestly, it could be a little turkey vagina for all I know. Flip the turkey over and this will expose the largest hole, the “body cavity” which I know sounds very NCIS. The view from here is more than a little titillating. In fact, the shiny round butterball shape sits atop neatly tucked legs and thighs looking almost identical to the recently posted photographs of a naked Kim Kardashian.

3. Plump it up!

No, I am not still talking about Kim Kardashian! In recent years, it has become fashionable to treat your turkey to various treatments to enhance tenderness and flavor. In addition to the age old technique of basting, some people soak their turkeys in brine. I noticed my guests seemed uncomfortable when I mentioned the only container in my house large enough to soak my giant turkey was the bath tub. (At a recent neighborhood gathering, I learned that forty-some  years ago a man named Mannie Boren made hot sauce in my old porcelain tub and marketed it from the Greensboro Country Club. Honestly, could I make this stuff up???)

I have now begun injecting my turkeys with various solutions to plump up its skin. I am not sure if this makes it taste any better but it does minimize the fine lines and helps my turkey retain its youthful appearance.

4. A word on cooking thermometers…

The final challenge to preparing a wonderful and edible Thanksgiving turkey is to know when it is done. This sounds deceptively simple. The Butterball Turkey Hotline says the best way to determine this is to jab a cooking thermometer deep into the turkey skin until it reaches a temperature of 165-180 degrees, depending on exactly where you have inserted the thermometer. The variance of these mere fifteen degrees could be the difference in samonella and cardboard, or life and death. It occurs to me that novice cooks, like the novice sexual partner, may not have an inkling where they are sticking things. This one takes practice and that’s all I’m saying about it.

Oh, and another important word about thermometers. All thermometers are NOT created equal. Not all are meant for baking. In an oven. There are lesser quality thermometers out there whose thin Chinese metals will not survive being scorched in the oven for the half day or more required to roast a giant turkey. These thermometers are meant for use on top the stove for making candy, fudge and the like.

If it is Thanksgiving morning and you cannot find your meat thermometer…

If it is Thanksgiving morning and your neighbor is not awake for you to borrow his or her meat thermometer…

If it is Thanksgiving morning and your meat thermometer was broken in the drawer of 1000 unused utensils…

If any of these circumstances cause you to head to your local Food Lion to buy a new thermometer, do not buy the cheap thermometer like you bought the cheap turkey. This is not, I repeat, NOT a meat thermometer and it will melt, right there on top of your turkey for all of the world to see.

Ask me how I know this.

Happy Thanksgiving ya’ll!

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