From the lifestyle column called Tittle-Tattle, penned by Louisa Abernethy Jones for the Vindicator, the weekly newspaper of Hapsburg, Virginia, here is a selection.

Antique Toasters

     Ernie Watkins, known for his collection of antique toasters, attended the annual convention of the International Small Appliance Guild in July. Hosted by Augusta Expoland in Fishersville, Virginia, ISAG included an exhibit and swap meet of over 300 antique toasters, toaster ovens, mixers, waffle irons, blenders, dicers, hot plates, crock pots, deep fat fryers and coffee makers from the United States and Canada.

     “I showed my Kitchen Lord Toaster,” he says, “with its unique embossed crown design, and my Cookright 750 Model.” From the side of the original box, he reads: “The patented crumb tray collects of bread crumbs, poppy seeds, raisins, oatmeal flakes and other toast-related debris for easy disposal or use in standard domestic bird feeders.”

     While at the convention, Ernie attended workshops in electric cord replacement, toaster refurbishment, and coil temperature adjustment. Demonstrations of working antique appliances proceeded throughout the weekend, which took on the air of a food festival, as a variety of edibles were chopped, browned, steamed, simmered, pureed, and done to a turn.

“An exhibit of antique waffle irons got my attention,” he says. “Beyond the grid you see all the time they had some unusual patterns and shapes, such as daisy, pinwheel, zigzag and heart designs. There was a rare Paddlewheel Steamship Model. The exhibit card said it was once used on a Mississippi riverboat, but it was marked Not for Sale.

“That’s the problem with these shows. Something catches your eye, and you zoom in, and you pick it up to see how it’s put together or search for a label, and you start to get excited, and then you turn it over and boom. For Exhibit Only, it says, Item for Display Purposes, No Se Vende. It gets aggravating after a while, kind of bait and switch. But I met some good people and got some ideas. I’ll be back next year, for sure.” 


Bake Sale Imbroglio

The annual Bake Sale at the Brickfront United Methodist Church, a fundraiser for the work of the United Methodist Women, was marred by accusations of foul play. An anonymous source who was present at the scene still fumes indignantly. 

“One of the participants stole a recipe for Double Fudge Squares, substituted a key ingredient, and palmed the result off on an unsuspecting public.”

Debbie Placeholder denies that she either borrowed or altered the recipe for her contribution.

“That card was in my mother’s kitchen recipe box from time immemorial. To the best of my knowledge, she got it from her mother. The handwriting is beautiful, if hard to read. Grandma favored a purple ink which has faded, not to mention a few drips and splashes. You have to expect these things. A kitchen is not a laboratory—not mine, anyway. 

“Now, it’s true that I have experimented over the years, added walnuts or pecans, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and on one occasion a dash of rum. But you can’t beat perfection, and everyone who has tasted them agrees. My Bountiful Brownies are a chocolate lover’s dream come true. If Cecelia Gross thinks for one minute that I need to imitate her insipid concoction—well, I just feel sorry for her.”

As all the evidence was bought and consumed, a comparison is now impossible. It should be noted that Mrs. Placeholder and Mrs. Gross have competed in culinary events in the past. They scored first and second respectively in the County Fair Piecrust Trials. And the Holiday Cookie Plate, sponsored by the Friends of the Library, was the scene of a similar disturbance, regrettably at odds with the festive tone of the occasion. 


Granite Jesus

If you blinked, you may have missed it, but for a brief moment a statue of Jesus stood in the front yard of a private home facing the First Baptist Church. Life size, executed in gray granite in a rough, modernistic style, the sculpture was titled “Rugged Redeemer.” The sculptor was Denny Hammer, who describes himself as a “semi-retired welder and full-time cogitator.”

Hammer, still vigorous at 67, sports a wide grin and a full head of salt and pepper hair, which he has always worn in a brush cut. 

“You know that Patsy Cline recording of ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee?’ For the longest time, I thought the next line was ‘Granite Jesus’ instead of what it really says which is ‘Grant it, Jesus.’ Patsy Cline was from Winchester, you know, not far from here. Anyway, after Lousy Lou Parkinson—that’s what I call him, he’s my buddy from way back—even after Lousy Lou called my attention to the actual wording of the song, I thought what the heck. Graveyards sometimes have a statue of Jesus, except they make him look wimpy, all meek and mild, not exactly a masculine interpretation. I’ve got time on my hands and stonecutting tools. How hard can it be? Let’s make a statue that expresses the working man’s point of view, something no-nonsense. Maybe I also heard ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ in my mind.”

Despite this hymn-inspired tale, Hammer’s statue was seen as a deliberate provocation by the First Baptists. In a fiery sermon delivered on the Sunday after it was unveiled, Pastor Jesse King denounced it as an “abomination in the sight of the Lord,” and cited the Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” From the pulpit, Rev. King demanded its immediate removal, without specifying how or by whom. During the night, the statue vanished without a trace.

“It was on my property,” Hammer says. “Nobody said a word to me or wrote a letter to the editor of the
Vindicator or suggested moving it. By now, it’s probably been converted to crushed stone or riprap. I’m not a member of any church, though I can’t speak for my wife Irene who belongs to the Methodists. It’s too bad some religious types are narrow-minded. I have nothing against them beyond the fact that they despise reason. They’ve got some great songs.” 

Interesting Condition

Blair Wolfram, interior designer, wife of securities analyst Eric Wolfram, and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hubert G. Willikers, reveals that she is in a family way. Though they wedded several years ago, this will be the couple’s first child. Wolfram, who has decorated the homes of friends and Junior League acquaintances, says that she is as surprised as anyone by the news.

“The Silver Spoon project—the new restaurant on Main Street—kept me so busy that when I felt queasy in the morning and moody, and everything seemed to smell, I frankly didn’t pay attention. Then clothes felt snug, and people made comments about my tummy. Even my husband Eric, whom I adore to distraction, said something about putting on weight. It wasn’t like him to notice, so I got to wondering. Finally, after my regular checkup, Dr. Laverne smiled in a funny way and said ‘Congratulations.’ ‘For what?’ I asked, and she broke out laughing. It turned out I was four months pregnant and had no idea.”

Normally a slender woman, Wolfram adds that she and her husband had been trying to have a baby for years without success. They consulted a reproductive specialist in Alexandria who assured them that everything was normal. 

“He said we were perfectly healthy, that sometimes it’s the luck of the draw, and that we should keep trying. So we did. I honestly don’t know what made the difference—scented candles, the prayer group at St. Giles, the exercise class—but I can tell you that we are both pleased. Eric showers me with attention, which I’m not used to, and everyone treats me like someone special, which I certainly am not. My big concern is to get the Silver Spoon finished and open for business before the baby takes over.”


Hats Off

After 65 years of purveying the finest in men’s clothing and accessories, Popinjay’s will shut down after the holiday season. As of December 31, the exclusive haberdashery will close its doors forever. Located on Main Street near the Courthouse, the menswear mecca has been a fixture in local retail, known for its imaginative window displays. But owner Jay Popinski says that the time has come.

“I’m not as young as I used to be. Running a small business can drain a person. I do all the buying, bookkeeping, inventory and display, and most of the day-to-day tasks. No one wants to buy a business like this nowadays, and dependable help is hard to find. Not that I blame them. Sales have been declining for years, what with the discount stores and the move to the suburbs. Then there’s the change in habits. Men don’t dress like they used to—suit and tie, crisply ironed shirt, shined leather shoes, and creased felt fedora. Don’t get me started on hats. When was the last time you saw a man in the street wearing a decent hat?

“I worked part-time while I finished high school. Kind of a runt, I was no good at team sports. I went to the movies and tried to imitate the stars, how the leading men acted and what they wore. It was the fifties and sixties. The Men’s Shop, as it was called, was the only place in town. I hung around so much that they offered me a job, sweeping floors and lugging piles of clothes. I was a high-energy kid, full of ideas, and as it turned out a natural-born salesman. From the open door, I’d talk to people in the street, say something cute, get their attention. If I could lure them inside, I could always sell them something.

“At age 18, I started full-time. Mike Worsted was the owner, a heavy man, older, and very traditional. He let me pick what I wanted to wear from the stock, so long as it stayed clean and saleable. A late bloomer, I eventually grew to size medium. Now here’s a fact you might not know. Store dummies generally wear jacket size 40 regular, exactly what I wear. So call me a dummy or a male model, take your pick.

“Seven years on, Mike wanted to retire. We finagled a deal for me to buy the business in installments. He had taught me all he knew and we had a mutual trust in each other. The year was 1969, when other men my age were rioting on campuses and protesting Vietnam. Little did I know what the seventies would bring. But we had a prime location and a stable economy. Lawyers, doctors and teachers are the customer base. I had to stay inside near the cash register, so I started the window displays as a way to engage. Pumpkin heads on the dummies at Halloween, Santa in a tailored business suit, rabbits coming out of hats at Easter, the summer beach party. People still talk about the Courtroom Trial Scene and the Black Tie Black Eye.

“The name change was another tactic. It’s a variation on my name with a carefree, snazzy sound. I coined the slogan ‘Pop into Popinjay’s.’ It slipped into common parlance, though people popped in less and less. I toyed with diversifying the product line—sportswear, golf, maybe even some women’s wear—but my heart wasn’t in it. Somehow, the business survived. There were good years. Employees came and went, but nobody like my younger self to groom as a successor. Now the lease is up for renewal, and I can’t see how to make a profit. Ella Eulalia Finch is entitled to whatever she can get in terms of rent. She just won’t be getting it from me.”

Popinski will remain in the area, he says. “I married the store, but I have plenty of nieces and nephews. I intend to be the best uncle within a fifty-mile radius, and dress sharp till the day I lie in a coffin.”

About the Author: 
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia, website boucheronarch.com. He writes articles and fiction on housing, communities, gardens, electric motorcycles, and love gone wrong. His work appears in Blue Lake Review, Cerise Press, Construction, Cossack Review, Dark Matter, Foliate Oak, IthacaLit, Montreal Review, Mouse Tales Press, NewerYork, Niche, North Dakota Quarterly, Northern Virginia, Pachinko, Piedmont Virginian, Prime Number, Rider, Rusty Nail, Streetlight, Talking Writing, 34th Parallel, Virginia Business, Zodiac Review.