Doug Chase, September 8, 2010, The News-Gazette wrote:Thinking Out Loud: Muffin
Life relentlessly chips away at the adolescent assumption that those who we love and most cherish will be here forever.
Then comes the death, sudden or otherwise, of one and then another and another who framed our sense of self and served as safe harbor in times of distress and confusion..
I can’t recall the beginnings of my relationship with Muffin; it just seems to have always been a significant part of my life, first because she was married to the postmaster and the mother of mechanical marvel Charles, collegiate wrestler who went to a high school with no wrestling team Madison and Carl, who, then and now, always seemed to squire a good-looking woman on his arm..
Then Mr. Cummings died suddenly over 40 years ago, and the three boys flew away from the nest, and there she was, alone only when she made that choice, but otherwise interacting with all around her. For Muffin, every encounter with another mattered. Did each person become her close friend? Well, no, because that’s not how it works when one is willing to make a memory of every moment.
Like many garrulous, social types, she had places of retreat. For decades she maintained a huge garden plot adjacent to her home, the very last house on the left before you were confronted by Maple Lane’s dead end. It will scandalize some, which would give her reason to giggle while working alone in the dirt of her garden, to learn that she was a regular participant in an all-ladies poker group, where money talked and you-know-what walked.
Muffin and I started our long love affair based on our mutual fascination. with information. We weren’t hurting anyone, and we both enjoyed working our way through the floor-to-ceiling stacks of newspapers and periodicals she kept in her home.
And she buzzed through them on her solitary days, clipping out any item she thought another might enjoy reading. Among my most cherished possessions is a small box of articles directed my way with notes in the margins.
More than a few articles aimed my way dealt with the necessity of ceasing fingernail chewing and how to achieve that goal. She would grab my hands and snap, “Yech! You’re a big boy now; you’ve got to stop that.”
Some time early in the past decade, I did. I thought she hadn’t noticed, which hurt my feelings because she noticed everything.
We talked about that many times. Why did we seem to be observers by nature, yet we were both skilled at keeping others at such a distance that they wouldn’t garner a substantial amount of scoop about us? “I just figure that’s the way it is,” she would conclude.
Her thirst for information centered particularly on her unabashed love for anything that had to do with her beloved alma mater, Lexington High School, from which she graduated in 1933 and where she worked as school secretary during World War II.
She was a fanatic when it came to LHS. Her obsessive collection of information about each and every LHS graduate was the primary source of the publication of the “Lexington High School Alumni Directory in 1998” by the Lexington High School Alumni, Inc., a group she served throughout its life as historian.
I have never much thought about my age, and I had never thought about hers until recent years. I think we both always figured we were stuck on 16.
As she passed 90, she was slowed down physically, yet her immobility seemed to enhance her thought processes. But when she was no longer able to drive, that was tough for mobility is the greatest tool of connectors like Muffin.
She moved from Maple Lane to Kendal, and that cut down on our ability to slip away, just the two of us, to giggle and gaggle and talk about the many things we’d never mention to another.
Her hearing began to suffer, and that was tough, too. About a year ago, she and I had a little verbal tiff, like so many we had survived through the years. Mary Frances Niceley “Muffin” Cummings had managed to hurt my feelings. For months I centered on why she had done that before one day my thoughts turned to why does it seem to bother me so?
That very day of realization I drove quickly to Kendal, hoping she would be alone when I arrived.
She was, sitting in her wheel chair outside her room with her familiar white bucket cap pulled down over her hair.
“I understand I made you angry; I just want you to know that I would never do that to you purpose. I’m sorry,” were the first words out of her mouth.
She reached out and grabbed my hands in hers. “Have I ever told you that you have beautiful hands?
“Madison is coming for lunch; you want to join us?”
I did, and it was wonderful. That was the last time I saw Muffin before she died on Sunday at 94, five days short of her 95th birthday.
Today I no longer feel my body is eternally 16, but my heart is still young. And I’m still curious about nearly person, place and circumstance I encounter, and that’s a gift Muffin gave me a long time ago.
A significant cornerstone of my forever has left the building, and I never got around to asking the obvious: “Why do they call you Muffin, Muff?”
She took that clipping with her.
Andy McCutcheon at National Press Club in 1996 wrote:"In his graceful, low-key way he educated readers on life in general, making us all feel better with the reassurance that he was as confused as we were by the world around us."
Charley McDowell in the Richmond Times Dispatch in 1967 wrote:"February depresses. It litters the landscape with dirty, clinging snow. It sabotages the automobile battery. It brings man into bitter conflict with his furnace.”
“February has the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington in it, but actually everyone in the world gets at least a year older in the course of February.”
By SHELIA BYRD and JIM VERTUNO | Associated Press
Published: March 22, 2011
AUSTIN -- In 1969 in Buffalo, N.Y., a wiry, middle-aged chain smoker sat in on piano during a jam session and earned a spot in the band of legendary bluesman Muddy Waters.
By then, Pinetop Perkins had already performed with the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk. The old school bluesman with the aggressive keyboard style and gravelly voice had played the rickety bars among the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, and toured with rock pioneer Ike Turner in the 1950s.
"Muddy came by, and heard him jamming, and he liked what he heard. The rest is history," said Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, who was a drummer in the band.
By the time he and Waters hooked up, Pinetop was in his 50s and "had more energy than us younger folks did," Smith said.
That verve kept him playing the blues and collecting Grammy Awards until shortly before his death from cardiac arrest Monday at his Austin, Texas, home. He was 97.
Perkins' skills came not from any sort of formal training but from an innate ability and love for a musical form that arose from the South's plantation system.
"I didn't get no schooling. I come up the hard way in the world," Perkins told The Associated Press in a 2009 interview.
Bob Corritore, a harmonica player who performed occasionally with Perkins and produced some of his work, said, "Pinetop could find the cracks and fill them in and be the glue and mortar of the whole band."
Fellow great bluesman B.B. King was saddened by the loss of his friend.
"He was one of the last great Mississippi Bluesmen. He had such a distinctive voice, and he sure could play the piano. He will be missed not only by me, but by lovers of music all over the world," King said in an emailed statement.
Perkins won a Grammy in February for best traditional blues album for "Joined at the Hip: Pinetop Perkins & Willie "Big Eyes" Smith." That win made Perkins the oldest Grammy winner, edging out late comedian George Burns, who was 95 when he won in the spoken category for "Gracie: A Love Story" in 1990.
Perkins also won a 2007 Grammy for best traditional blues album for his collaboration on the "Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas." He received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005.
Even at his age, he was a fixture at Austin clubs, playing regular gigs up to last month. He had more than 20 performances booked this year, said Perkins' agent Hugh Southard. And after they won the Grammy this year, Smith and Perkins discussed recording another CD.
"I thank the Lord for me being here all the time. I play any piano with a good tune," Perkins said in 2009.
Perkins, whose real first name was Willie, was born in 1913 in Belzoni, Miss. He gave himself the nickname "Pinetop" because he liked the music of an earlier performer named Pinetop Smith, said Corritore.
And, piano wasn't his first choice of instrument. He started out on the guitar.
"But due to a misunderstanding with a woman he was stabbed in the arm and had tendon damage so he switched to piano," said Corritore.
Perkins accompanied Williamson on the popular King Biscuit Time radio show broadcast on KFFA in Helena, Ark., in the 1940s, but was known mostly as a sideman until he started recording his own style decades later.
"Boogie Woogie King" was Perkins' first solo album in 1976. Beginning in 1992 with "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie," he released a string of 15 albums in as many years.
"There were times I got to spend full weeks with him working on projects. Through all of it, he was just strong and steady," Corritore said.
Perkins lived his life in the tradition of many bluesmen, rambling from place to place, watching most of his contemporaries pass on. He moved to Austin in 2004 to live with an associate since he had no family.
"We knew he lived a good life. What can you say about the man? He left here in his sleep. That's the way I want to go," said Smith, who lives in Chicago.
His manager, Patricia Morgan, said funeral arrangements were pending in Austin and a graveside service would be held near Clarksdale, Miss., where he wanted to be buried.
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