I meant to review Mary Kay Andrews’ The Fixer Upper the minute it appeared in the stores. And I would have, too, if a) I wasn’t teaching away from home all summer, and b) I had remembered I was even in this challenge! I did buy The Fixer Upper the second I saw it. It has such a provocative cover–that yummy creamcicle orange paired with turquoise and hot pink. A number of Andrews’ fans wanted to know where to buy the model’s skirt. I’d like it too, but I also want her shoes and legs to go with it! I’m actually more keen on her vintage luggage, particularly the hatbox. So practical, don’t you think, to have a single piece of luggage to carry your cartwheel-sized picture hats?
But what did I think of the book? Well, after all the hype and build-up and waiting and checking on Andrews’ blog . . . I was a teensy bit let down. The title led me to think the book would be about fixing up the old house, Birdsong (love the name!), with the usual man problems. And all that’s there, but Dempsey Killebrew is more involved in clearing her name (she worked in a high-profile lobby firm) than fixing up the old wreck of a house that belongs to her father. She does work on it, but I craved more details. What I love best about Savannah Breeze and Savannah Blues are the antiquing, decorating, and rescuing of old places.
The Fixer Upper is populated with Andrews’ usual mix of funny, interesting, and eccentric characters (the old lady cousin is a hoot!). And I liked Dempsey Killebrew, but not as much as I wanted to. I felt the same about Gina in Andrews’ last book, Deep Dish. This book was too much of a Paula-Deen-vs.-Famous-Grill-Guy cooking shows (I know there is a famous grill guy cooking show, but since I don’t watch them, I can’t remember who he is. I only know Paula Deen because she has her own empire.) The latest books have more of a Chick Lit gloss and less of a down-home Southern feel. That’s what bothered me. The books are moving away from their roots and becoming more slick.
Maybe I won’t be so quick to buy Andrews’ next book in hardcover. Maybe I’ll probably put my name on the list at the library instead. But I’ll be eager to read whatever she writes because I’m a fan for life.
Stores are filled with backpacks and notebooks and that giddy father in the Staples commercial is gleefully stocking up once more. Most of us who are writers feel back-to-school is the real New Year, eyeing shelves filled with clean blank tablets and the latest gel pens. I remember longing for a slick vinyl notebook with a magnetic "secret" compartment to hold pencils and lunch money, but having to settle for a plain blue cloth binder. I yearned for a pen that wrote turquoise ink (my favorite color), but wound up with ordinary Bics.
In junior high and high school, the fad was cartridge pens. Could we have latched on to a messier and less convenient writing instrument? The pens leaked and always ran out of ink during a test. I still remember quickly changing cartridges during a timed quiz. But more than school supplies, my memories of August run to clothes and the special August issues of Seventeen. All of us girls lugged around our catalog-sized magazines, studying the ads and editorial content. In the late 60s, popular models were Colleen Corby and Twiggy. I was built like Twiggy but desperately wanted to look like Colleen Corby, a "natural" beauty (and a brunette!). (This August 1968 cover shows Cheryl Tiegs).
Money was always tight in our family and my mother made most of my clothes. By the time I was 13, I craved outfits from The Villager Shop. Villager shirtwaist dresses in tiny floral prints. Blouses with Peter Pan collars (where you fastened your circle pin). Shetland twin sets. Cardigans that exactly matched A-line skirts. Anything Madras plaid (a fabric famous for "bleeding" when washed). Ring belts (burgundy leather belts with gold rings at intervals). Melton stadium coats (which we left flapping open no matter how cold). Etienne Aigner purses (down here, we said "Ig-ner"). And, most important, Bass Weejun penny loafers.
The pricey Villager Shop was out. I was allowed to buy a few things from Lerner in downtown Clarendon (which we went to once a year). I could get a blouse and a cardigan. My mother could make the shirtwaist dresses and A-line skirts (without the Villager label, alas). But we couldn’t fake the Ig-ner purse, ring belt, and Weejuns. At the end of the summer, my mother and some friends held a big yard sale. In those days yard sales were rare occurrences and well-attended. My mother made brownies and cookies and lemonade for me to sell at my own table. I was extremely shy and a terrible salesperson, but I’d walk over hot coals to get my Ig-ner purse. At intervals during the day, I’d stop and count my money in my little cash box. Enough for a purse? Yes! Enough for the ring belt? Yes! Enough for some make-up? Yes!!!
On the first day of ninth grade, when it was undoubtedly 98 degrees, I put on my new A-line skirt and new blouse and matching cardigan. I fastened my circle pin to the Peter Pan collar just so. I dropped my Yardley blue lipstick (yes, the lipstick was blue!) into my new burgundy leather Ig-ner purse with the brass turn-lock. I slid my new leather-and-ring belt around my very small waist (the last time I was able to wear a belt). I smoothed Max Factor Espresso shadow across my lids, swished the Maybelline mascara wand over my lashes, filled in my dark eyebrows with Max Factor brow powder (even at the age of 13, I didn’t ignore my brows), swooped Yardley brown (never black) eyeliner above the roots of my lashes, thickening the end just a bit for depth but never extending the line. Then I slipped my wooden fairycross earrings into my ears (which my sister had pierced the year before with a needle and ice cubes–hey, we did what we could in those days).
I pulled on new knee socks. My shoes waited. They were not Bass Weejuns. They were children’s loafers, Buster Brown style. Oh, my shoes were the bane of my existence. For some reason, my feet never grew. In ninth grade, I was still wore a size 1 and 1/2! I stuffed newspaper in the toe of my too-big kid’s shoes to make them fit.
And then I walked down the hill to the bus stop with my new blue cloth binder and a new (probably leaking) Schaffer cartridge pen in my Ig-ner purse. Thanks to Seventeen, I was ready to take on high school.