Friday, July 19, 2024

Picnics with Aunt Kathryn by Kaye Wilkinson Barley


Several years ago, my Great Aunt Kathryn and I decided to start a tradition all our own. We decided to get together for a picnic one Sunday a month, agreeing that picnics help keep you young. Further agreeing that sharing our bounty, however small and simple, with Mother Nature, along with the ants and the bees via picnics, was a fine, selfless and virtuous tradition we could proudly champion.

There were, of course, occasional exceptions to that rule. There were those cold or rainy Sundays when we would giggle like little girls as we plopped the picnic basket down on Aunt Kathryn’s mahogany dining table in her oh-so-formal dining room, but it wasn’t quite the same without the ants and the bees.

Our tradition began the day we found our beloved old picnic basket, the one we always filled to brimming with treats we both love. Simple fare, like picnics are meant to be. But also a nod to the whimsical and fancy that Kathryn and I have always been prone to.

It was one of those fortuitous little accidents that started a chain of events. A fun and lovely journey with an undefined ending or estimated time of arrival.

I was visiting Aunt Kathryn in Savannah that day, and we were in one of those frou-frou antique shops that I love to browse in but where I’m rarely able to buy anything. The dumpy places on the roadside are much more my style and where I’m usually able to find a treasure I can afford – like dusty old white ironstone pitchers back before Martha Stewart and Country Living Magazine started displaying them on every surface from a window sill to a toilet tank.

When “The Basket,” as it became known, fell off a shelf, landing at my feet, it was love at first sight. I knew better than to let the shop owner know that I was already coveting this old thing – a faded old red wicker picnic basket.

The owner raced toward me squealing “Ooh, ooh, ooh. Is it hurt? Is it broken?” I wasn’t sure if she was concerned about the basket or my foot. All the while, she was waving her hands and fluttering her fingers like she was feeling moved by spirits usually encountered in a revival tent while I just stood there waiting to see what was going to happen next.

Aunt Kathryn nudged me from behind and whispered. “Do not say one word, sugar. Not one.”

When the shop owner stopped in front of us and finally stopped waving her hands and fluttering her fingers, she noticed my aunt.

“Oh. Kathryn. Um. How lovely to see you!”

“Hello, Marguerite.”

“Where have you been keeping yourself, I haven’t seen you in the shop in just an age.”

Aunt Kathryn looked around, “Actually, I don’t believe I’ve been here before. Lovely things you have here, dear. But tell me, do things often come tumbling off the shelves barely missing giving your patrons a concussion?”

I could have sworn I heard a quiet little “tut-tut” from Kathryn as she continued looking around, never letting her eyes fall to the picnic basket on the floor between us.

Marguerite pulled her shoulders back, put her nose another inch in the air. “Certainly not. And that old picnic basket is light as a feather. It wouldn’t have even dented a hair on your head, Kathryn. Why it’s even in this shop, I have no idea. It’s just a cheap ol’ piece made overseas somewhere. And you know how those things are, no substance. Light as a feather. Here, I’ll get it out of your way.”

Kathryn gracefully leaned forward and snatched up that basket as quick as I could blink my eyes.

“Oh, here, Marguerite dear, I’ll take care of it for you. My grandson’s sister-in-law’s little girl would love to play with this. And you know, with it being so cheap and all, no need to worry when it falls apart the first day she tries to get her cats to take a nap in it. I’ll be more than happy to take it off your hands. How much?”

We watched Marguerite turn to stone in front of our very eyes. She knew she had been found out. This beauty was no cheap piece of nothing from somewhere overseas as she had described it

“Oh, why, good heavens, I couldn’t take your money for this old thing. I’ll just toss it in the trash can right over there.”

“Oh my no. I’m quite excited by the very thought of that adorable little girl tucking her kitties into this old thing. If you won’t accept my money, I’ll just toss it in the back of the car while Katy and I look around. You go along, Katy, take your time and look around. I’ll be right back.”

And that’s how we came to own our beautiful 19th century Heywood-Wakefield wicker picnic basket with metal hinges and peg nails, its original color faded to a soft warm red. The woven wicker in surprisingly fine shape. This old basket had been lovingly cared for. Score one for the home team. That would be me and Aunt Kathryn since there was no little girl with kittens belonging to Kathryn’s grandson’s sister-in-law. Indeed, not even a grandson.

My aunt had known Marguerite Harald Alberta Woolsey all her life and knew she was one of those women who would just rather tell a lie than tell the truth, and Aunt Katherine loved taking advantage of that little lifelong trait.

We immediately planned a picnic to take place the very next day.

And it was so much fun, we decided to work a monthly Sunday picnic into our busy schedules.

We now had the perfect reason, allowing no excuses, to get together once a month – for me to make the trip to Savannah from my home a couple hours away.

Picnics became a tradition for the two of us, and something we both looked forward to. Our phone conversations now included picnic menus and locations.

It was early on that Aunt Kathryn spoke up and made it clear that eating on paper plates, even for a picnic, was unacceptable. Not even acceptable to Mother Nature, the ants, or the bees.

She wanted china.

And silver.

And crystal.

Oh, my.

All these things would join the linen table cloth and napkins she was donating to the cause of a well-stocked picnic basket

With that in mind, Aunt Kathryn decided we needed to choose a china pattern. And a silver pattern. And, yes, a crystal pattern.

When I reminded her we weren’t planning a wedding, only outfitting an old picnic basket she did that “tut-tut” thing she does.

So, of course, we did it her way.

Which gave us the perfect excuse to start scouring antique and junk shops for the things we would keep stored in our basket.

Anyone who loves to antique or junk knows the hunt is part of the fun, and our hunt was a hoot.

When we had our first china-related disagreement over exactly which pattern we should choose, we agreed we would each pick out a piece, or two, of china to suit ourselves. One that appealed to us individually rather than as a collective.

As it turned out, we both chose Limoges luncheon plates. They were different patterns, but close enough in design that they made quite a lovely aesthetically pleasing mismatch. We both chose white with small pink flowers, Kathryn’s with a pink rose and white daisy border, mine with a random scattering of tiny pink roses. At some point, a slightly chipped Limoges creamer and sugar bowl of yet another pink and white floral pattern found residence in “The Basket.” As did a couple of teacups, small bowls, and one larger covered dish. We had a veritable mash-up of Limoges before we finally had to say “enough!” Or there’d be no room for food.

While hitting a few yard sales on a pretty spring Saturday, we both knew we’d found our perfect silverware which turned out not to be silver at all, but stainless. With the most darling little bumble bee embossed on the handles. Perfect! We swooped in and scooped up the few odds and ends available – enough that we both had our own fork and a spoon each, but would have to share a knife.

Our crystal needs were met when we stopped at an old falling down shack of a place on a back road between Savannah and Tybee Island. There was a sign stuck in the ground with “Old Stuff” and an arrow drawn on it pointing to the shack where an elderly couple were sitting in rockers on the front lawn. Both were smoking pipes, and both were dressed in well-worn overalls and work boots.

We introduced ourselves as we approached and were offered our choice of drinks from an old Coca-Cola cooler and a bit of tobacco in case we had pipes of our own. We passed on the tobacco, but took them up on their offer of a cold drink and sat of the steps for a visit.

By the time we left, we knew quite a bit about Henry and Harriett, and we had a few pieces of delicately etched antique Rose Point crystal by Cambridge. Henry and Harriett were quite well suited to their choice of livelihood in sales seeing as how we intended to buy two pieces of crystal and ended up with, well, never mind. A lot of crystal – some only slightly chipped. I still have quite a few pieces at my house, Aunt Katherine ended up with quite a few pieces, and friends and family who have admired it might arrive home with a piece of two. Still not sure how that happened. But. It’s a lovely, lovely pattern, and because we had so much to choose from, the pieces that resided in “The Basket: were on rotation

I arrived at the spot chosen for our picnic - a serene spot in Bonaventure Cemetery, on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River. Bonaventure is hauntingly beautiful, and if you’re one who enjoys the mysteries and peacefulness of a walk through a cemetery, this is one not to be missed. If you read John Berendt’s book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” you’ve seen one of the Bonaventure statues - the “Bird Girl” which was featured on the book cover. It’s no longer there, however, due to over-zealous visitors who perhaps weren’t as respectful to “Bird Girl” as they could have been. She now resides in Savannah’s Telfair Museum.

As I put down our linen tablecloth, our much loved, long used picnic finery along with today’s repast of country pâté and crusty French bread, plump strawberries, a salad of crunchy fresh lettuces topped with slices of cucumber, mushrooms and local tomatoes, I noticed a line of ants headed our way, and a few bees hovering around the azaleas.

I poured some of Aunt Kathryn’s favorite champagne, Krug Grande Cuvée, into our glasses and leaned back on my elbows, enjoying the quiet laced with birdsong.

“Yes, Aunt Kathryn, I know, I know. I did splurge on the champagne. But, well, we couldn’t let your birthday go by without a bit of celebration. I mean, I think your old pal Conrad Aiken started a Bonaventure tradition of drinking with the dearly departed by having his headstone constructed as a bench, declaring it to be a place for his friends to sit and enjoy a martini while conversing with his spirit, right? Do you suppose he didn’t like champagne? Heaven forbid. Well, with apologies to Mr. Aiken, we’ll forgo the martini and enjoy the Krug, what say?

After wiping away a few errant tears, I raised my glass to the headstone that read “Kathryn, a woman who loved picnics. She always done the best she could, and lived her life with enormous joy. Much loved and greatly missed.”

Then, as I felt a soft breeze whispering in my ear I got up, whispered, “I love you too, Aunt Kathryn,” and walked away, leaving behind “The Basket” and all the treasures it had held safely for so many years. Leaving the now threadbare tablecloth and all that rested on it. All to be shared with Mother Nature, the ants and the bees. As it should be.

* * *

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Project 2025

 Educate yourself on Project 2025, 
funded and promoted 
by the "Heritage Foundation" 
and make sure it fails.


"Project 2025 has a lot of different moving parts, which means that one way to begin understanding it is to scroll down through the table of contents and pick the chapter that interests you the most, starting there. There’s an entire chapter on plans for the Justice Department, a section on the military, and one, that has been discussed a lot, about the plan to cheapen the independence of federal civil servants. That move is more significant than you might think at first glance. Last November, I wrote about that plan:

“In October of 2020, before the last election, Trump was already taking steps in this direction. Trump signed an executive order making a change in civil service rules that made it possible to fire employees in policy positions ‘at will’—for no reason at all. Civil Service regulations are full of ‘schedules’ for different types of personnel and classifications like ‘exempted service’ that don’t mean much unless you’ve lived in the arcane world of federal employment. That made it difficult to understand what the executive order was about. More importantly, it was just too far in the weeds to resonate with folks at that time, when everyone was focused on more important matters like the upcoming election. But the order was characterized by people in the knows as a ‘stunning attempt to politicize the civil service and undermine more than a century of laws aimed at preventing corruption and cronyism in the federal government.’ It was the logical outcome of Trump’s obsession with a ‘deep state’ that he believed was out to get him.

The point of having a protected cadre of career civil service employees is to preserve expertise within government. But Trump’s executive order meant that any government employee involved in policymaking could be placed into a new Schedule F classification, a classification which left them vulnerable to evaluation based on their politics not their performance, and to dismissal for any reason. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but coming this late in the administration, the order could only be read as an effort to make sure Trump, in his next term (which thankfully didn’t materialize), could swiftly dispose of career employees he believed weren’t loyal to him. The order undid the pesky civil service protections that made it impossible to fire FBI agents who were investigating him or government lawyers who insisted he play by the rules. It was a harbinger of what Trump’s plans for 2025 would look like.

One of the first steps Joe Biden took after being sworn in was to rescind Trump’s executive order.”

This gives you a good sense of what Project 2025 is about. It doesn’t go off with a bang. It’s written in the banal language of federal agencies and the bureaucracy. You have to pay attention to understand it. It’s not a summer beach read, but this may be the most important book club selection you ever take up."

Joyce Vance's article is only one of many.

Google Project 2025 to choose articles and opinions on your own to educate yourself on how it would change our county.  You may think you know what this is all about, but you may find surprises that you will find upsetting.  If you're not familiar with Project 2025, please educate yourself.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Poetry - Recommended -

 Buy it - Read it 

Released Today

Magic Enuff by Tara M. Stringfellow

"Each poem asks how we can heal and sustain relationships with people, systems, and ourselves. How to reach for the kind of real love that allows for the truth of anger, disappointment, and grief. Unapologetic, unafraid, and glorious in its nuance, this collection argues that when it comes to living in our full humanity, we have—and we are—magic enough."


and I had made everyone lemonade
they sipped, offered pleasantries
my house, the antiques
how could they see I asked
with only those tiny slits
for eyes and we all laughed

after a bit, it got quiet
so I broke the silence with
what I thought my mom
and my grandma and hers
would've wanted me to say -

I poisoned y'all lemonade

        - - - Tara M. Stringfellow

Monday, June 24, 2024



This person as President of the United States  ? ? ?

People have lost their frigging minds

Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Day lilies wave us in like a plane approaching its gate.

 Big bossy peonies greet us at the end of the drive.

The creek trickles by singing "Welcome Home!"

Peepers around the pond add their loud squeaky salutations.

A soft light in a window. 

Beat up leather recliner, dusty baker's rack filled with dustier old crystal.


. . . and more books

Old quilts hanging on the walls

along with photographs, art work, needlework, old mismatched dishes and hats, not a blank space to be found.

Ducks painted by Donald, age 8, awaiting our return from its place of honor at the top of the stairs.


. . . and a few more books

Shelves scattered with stuff - fine china and hand thrown pottery, seashells, candles, ironstone pitchers, mama's old imari, wise old owls, funny little bunny with a broken ear, heart shaped rocks, a mix of old and new, the good and the not so good but no less cherished.

Michael's old fire screen.

My dad's favorite sweater.

. . . and a few more books

Antique dressers topped with more stuff; Aunt Belle's Waterford sits next to Earl's tiny yellow school bus

Small lamps to light the dark corners; the better to see the dust bunnies.

Quilts and throws and pillows tossed onto chairs, baskets filled with old magazines and travel guides, a partially knitted scarf (10 years in the making).

Another basket filled with doggie toys to be randomly rediscovered with joy and jubilation by Annabelle, Queen of the Corgis.

A big old bowl, cracked but still beautiful, filled with fun sized Butterfingers, Heath Bars, Kisses and Truffles and Jelly Beans.

Coffee that tastes like home.

A kitchen that guarantees cookies for peeps and doggos. (read bag carefully).

Lotions and potions, creams and conditioners, capsules and tablets and pills and prescriptions right where they should be in a bathroom that's too small but somehow just right.

A welcoming bed with soft linen sheets, old feather pillows, and a faded old quilt.

Nightstand topped with a steno pad and a pen, a phone we rarely answer, tissues and floss and eye drops and lip balm and just a few books; Pat Conroy, Billy Collins and Mary Oliver to wish me sweet dreams.


Sunday, June 16, 2024

Father's Day With the Barleys


Father's Day

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
        ― Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

Alan W. Wilkinson

Miss you, dad.

Kaye Alan

Monday, June 10, 2024



And as you stand there
Arms crossed
Managing to look both infinitely patient and impatient at the same time
Trying not to roll your eyes and wonder how much longer all this will take

Let us now praise you.

You: the grumpy, the grouchy, the grumbling.
You: the beleaguered and the put-upon.
You: our hidden hero.

Because while you are
Short-tempered with the witless
Furious with the shallow and
Yelling at the television

It is only because you are so thoughtful
That everyone else seems so thoughtless.

And while you insist that you do not care about
What anyone is wearing or
What anyone said or did or
What so-and-so said or did back,
Nor do you give two figs about
The disenfranchised urban-dweller of today or
The illiterate or
The underprivileged of some foreign land or
Whomever it is we're supposed to be caring about today and that

You will not, under any circumstances,
Attend the choir concert or
The holiday party or
The 12-step meeting or
The neighborhood street fair or
The fancy dress ball or
The class reunion - for God's sake especially not the reunion - and that

You mustn't be relied upon for
Donations or
A ride home or
Free advice or
Help moving in to your new townhouse or a
Damn birthday present or
Whatever it is that all those people with all those
Outstretched hands
Seem to want

You must know that we all know
That you do, indeed, care and that
You will, if pressed, attend and that
We all do rely
On you.

We can tell that you care,
Because you so assiduously refuse to conform to
Some greeting-card version of caring
And instead insist on caring about us as individuals.

You remember the conversation we had about
Ry Cooder's guitar playing, and
Six weeks later you slip us a
Homemade cassette tape with no label.

You shun the collection plate, and yet
You shove a hundred dollars into the Youth Group's coffee can
(A check, of course - no sense missing out on the tax deduction just because you had a weak moment.)

And when you go to greet us,
You look us in the eye and take our full measure
And if you should
Notice that we look a bit sad,
You will grab our hand and
Kiss us roughly on the cheek and say,
"You OK, darlin'?"

You might grouse about Christmas Eve,
But you do love Christmas morning.

And while you would never voluntarily look at a
Photo album,
You forever hold a picture in your mind of
How we looked in
That Halloween costume
That prom dress
That uniform.

And we know you will attend
(Quit squirming - this poem isn't that much longer)
Because underneath your self-proclaimed
Disdain for all humanity
You are curious.
Intensely, insatiably, incorruptibly curious
And while you act repulsed
I suspect you are truly fascinated by us -
This clamoring horde of strangers you are compelled to share the planet with.

OK, OK: with whom this planet you are compelled to share.
Good grief you can be a pain sometimes.

And oh, how we rely on you.

And finally,
While you have largely succeeded in getting yourself off of
The phone tree
(That tactic you had about boring everybody silly with the excruciating details of your latest Water Filtration Project did wonders for removing you from any thinking hostess' guest list)
We do still rely on you.

Oh how we rely on you.

Oh how we rely on you.

You are our voice of sanity
Our comrade-in-arms
Our truth-telling ally in a world of endless bullshit.

You are our hidden hero
Deceptively chivalrous with
Your tender heart clad in dented armor.

And you must know that
When you are gone
We miss you.

So go ahead and
Sneak out at intermission and
Have an extra drink to get you through the reception and
Just turn and walk away from the
Over-gesticulating and the infuriatingly self-righteous.

Save yourself from these petty cruelties so that
When the world becomes just too much for us poor mortals to bear
We can rely on you to save us.

Oh how we rely on you.
Oh how we rely on you.

Oh how we rely on you.

Now stand still, because we're going to give you a nice, big hug. 

Samantha Bennett
© 2009