No Dessert Til You Clean Up That Mess

by Carol Caldwell
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mrstennessee.jpgAround our house in those days, if you didn’t clean up your room you went to bed without dessert.  Not just a mess in your own room, either.   If you left a mess anywhere and refused to be responsible for it—reasons ranging from recalcitrance to outright sloth—no matter!  There was NO EXCUSE FOR IT!

In the great Southeast, no meal was complete without something sweet to round it out.   While you might be able to stand fast, stay whatever course had to be stayed concerning your Mess and its necessity, it was you, the Messer, who teetered bedward in sugar shock, the withdrawal kind, not the law upholders of the land.

It was l960, when our mother’s chums entered her in the Mrs. Nashville contest as a practical joke.  Not because she wasn’t up to muster in all things home ec, it just wasn’t something anyone from our side of town had ever “done.”  Nonetheless, she jumped through the field trials and sashayed home with the banner.  Mrs. Nashville.  Nice picture in the paper, everybody got a big kick out of it.

Then she was honor bound to compete in the Mrs. Tennessee contest. At this point, the big guns came out about home decorating, magazines were thumbed and clipped re interior decorum and elegant entertaining.  Recipes were banged out, pot lucks and tastings went on for weeks leading up to the state wide showdown.  Once again, our champeen mother captured the sateen banner.  Now it was Mrs. Tennessee and  truckloads of accompanying prize booty rumbled up the drive.  We got a brand new stove, a brand new frost free refrigerator, all the kitchen accoutrements a real contender was going to need to bone up for the Big One.  Next stop:  you got it!  MRS. AMERICA.

50skitchen.jpgThe house was a mess.  Living room and dining room flush with sketched layouts of fin de Fifties swank furnishings, drapery swatches, tables were laid, centerpieces arranged and struck, but it was, of course, in the kitchen where the rubber really hit the road.  Mama was perfecting a fancy fruit dessert that we were subjected to for weeks on end.  No more banana puddin’ or fudge pie for our house!  We were begging to go to bed without the fruit goo frappe.

Mamo came up from Atlanta to keep us while Helen and Herb, or Mrs. and Mr. Tennessee packed off to Fort Lauderdale for the nationally televised event. After days down there of tireless competition in every form of domestic arts and sciences, the field was pared down to ten finalists from the original fifty-two. Needless to say, Mrs. Nashville dang Tennessee was among the top-flight ten.

ontheair.jpgThe Big Night arrived. The family TV set was fired up.  The Mrs. America extravaganza was ON THE AIR!  My brother and I were on the floor with a king size bowl of popcorn and Dr. Peppers.  Mamo had a dry sack and the decanter beside her.  All was poised for the obvious end result:  a Tennessee Triple Crown!

On and on about the boring competition, clips from the arena and film of the Missuses at work.  Certificates were issued about how our mother won this one and how she won that.  Yak yak, etc. etc.  All this was as expected. Now came the names of the five finalists, now came the three.  Mrs. Indiana, Mrs. Nebraska, and…yes! 

The emcee made ready to pop the final questions to the other two pretenders and our clearly preferred mother.  Hospitality and graciousness in the home, blah blah blah and hand over the crown, already!  When our mother’s name was called for her question, she strode down the runway like springtime in Paris, France, and all of us were faint with anticipation.  She answered with the savoir faire of 38 years of full-fledged southern belledom and anybody in their right mind could tell she had it bagged.

tvset.jpgAnother cut to commercial.  Holy Moses!  Yet another commercial—Jeez, Louise!  And finally, with a returning swell of huge orchestral fanfare—the moment we’d all been waiting for!  Third runner up, Mrs. Nebraska—come on down!  Clap clap weep weep-- cut to the chase.  And now…let’s meet our second runner up!  Mrs….Tenn-es-see!

What the %^*&^%$!  We’d been robbed!  What the damn Sam Hill?  The goldarn blue ribbon in every damn event except the damn dessert category—what’s goin’ on here?  They can’t do this to US…they, they, they…Damn them TV Yankees!

By the time Mama and Daddy got back from Ft. Lauderdale, we had it all figured out.  You see, the national sponsor of the Mrs. America contest was natural gas.  That’s right, the natural gas companies of America.  So, what’s the catch?  We live in TVA, see?   The Tennessee Valley Authority which made our state—Total Electric!  They had to run special gas lines down the middle of our street for those fancy new appliances.  NOBODY HAD GAS back then!  Nobody!

But I want to return to that business of going to bed without dessert if you made a mess and refused to clean it up.  This was obviously not the law of the land in the home of George and Barbara Bush with those five rambunctious little monkeys because the current Leader of the Free World has never had to clean up MESS ONE HE’S EVER MADE, not once in his entire What Me Worry? “world owes me a living” lifetime.  Not one of the many businesses he’s driven into the ground with other peoples’ money, not the DUI’s and other drug-related difficulties, not the AWOL’s from the National Guard, not his eight years of Empire-Ending tenure—oh no, the next president can clean up the mess he’s made.

Why on God’s green earth, I ask you, is this feckless freeloader and his evil overseer exempt from cleaning up the mess they made before they, god willing, are finally, let us pray, sent to bed without dessert?

 

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