Who got the White Chocolate Bunny?

Happy Easter, everyone! I hope it’s been a great day for you, filled with family and fun. We had Mick’s family over, as we do most holidays. We fixed a ham, mashed potatoes & gravy, Mick’s now famous baked beans, green beans, my potato salad and deviled eggs. It would not be a holiday meal without deviled eggs and mine are the best! Well, at least I think so.

Mary taught me how to make the potato salad and it’s one of those things I make that I don’t have a recipe for. I just know when it’s right. I put some of my bread and butter pickles in it, along with some pickle juice. It helps that balance of sweet and tangy. I gave half of it to Mick’s mom to take home because Mick won’t eat it and I would eat it all if given half a chance. I always make myself a few extra deviled eggs and tuck them away in the fridge, kinda like it’s my own Easter egg hunt! The dozen that went on the table were all gone, so I am glad I did.

My earliest memories of Easter are dying eggs. Mom had a set of plastic coffee cups that we dipped the eggs in. She would put on a pot of eggs, the kettle, and got out the vinegar and food coloring. She also covered the kitchen table in paper or a plastic tablecloth ’cause the color was going to go everywhere. I always loved the smell of the vinegar and the hot water in the cups. When we were done, our fingers looked like tie-dye shirts. When she got tired of using the food coloring, she got us the egg dying kits that came with little coloring pills, a wire dipper and the box turned into an egg display. I think we only colored a dozen eggs, but it seemed to last for hours. We really did have a good time with it. We almost always did it the night before Easter.

On Easter morning, we would get up and run to the kitchen to see what the Easter Bunny had left us. Our baskets were lined up on the big chest freezer we had. Mine was to the far left, and mine and Bobby’s baskets were the same size. They had a wooden bottom, wooden handle and a plastic-like ribbon woven around the sides. Pat’s was a little bigger, but Ricky’s was the biggest. All our baskets were stored inside his. There were a couple of the eggs we colored the night before in each, jelly beans scattered around and we each got a chocolate bunny. One of us though got the white chocolate bunny. Each year it would be someone different so I couldn’t wait to see if it was me! We also got little chocolate eggs wrapped in colored foil. We couldn’t eat our chocolate bunny right away, but we could sneak a chocolate egg or two before we had to get dressed to go to Sunrise Service.

After returning from church, we went to Grandmaw Barton’s. The whole family would be there over the course of a couple of hours. All the kids would end up outside to play, but we had to be careful to stay out of the flowerbeds, which was almost impossible. She had flowerbeds everywhere. She also had concrete statues of animals in lots of the beds. My favorite was the donkey. I always wanted to ride him like a pony. I am sure we did, but Grandmaw would yell at us that we were gonna break his neck. A couple of years we had an Easter Egg hunt out in the front yard too. Try keeping a couple dozen kids out of the flowerbeds when they held the promise of a dirty hard boiled egg! Before it was all over, we would gather for a family picture in front of the house. There are so many pics like that. It’s hard to tell sometimes which holiday was which from our pictures.

This is the next generation. I don’t even know how many great-grandchildren or even great-great-grandchildren there were.

We also had an egg hunt before Easter on the playground of the elementary school we went to. Mom would take us and we would walk to the school with our neighbor. The playground was huge, so the hiding possibilities were endless. One year I got a nosebleed and had to stop hunting, pinch my nose and hold my head back. On the walk home, we stopped at a gas station across from Tom’s Brook Elementary and got a Pepsi. Just one though, that we all shared. We would take a sip and pass it around. The school was only a mile from home, but we didn’t have sidewalks past the couple of houses next to the school so we had to walk in the grass and up in neighbor’s yards to stay out of traffic. When we returned to school from Spring break, we would look to see if we could still find and egg or two.

When I started to work, I had to work on Easter. My brothers were going to car races and I think dad had to work too. I worked at The Virginian Truck Stop bussing tables. They had a special that day of stuffed pork chops, so I invited mom to have lunch with me. I think that was the first time I got to take her out to eat. She dressed up and had on a red polka-dotted blouse. I hated the idea of her being alone that day, so I was glad we could enjoy it. The Easter dinners at Grandmaw Barton’s just kind of ended or we just didn’t go.

We also stopped having Easter baskets. They were stored in the attic, with the grass still in them. When we pulled them out, I think for my niece, the grass was all stuck together and there were a couple of dried up jelly beans in them. I don’t know that I’ve eaten a jelly bean since. We would always get a couple of chocolate bunnies though. 

Happy Easter!

Waste Not, Want Bread

One of the things that you learn growing up poor, is to not waste anything if you can help it. And, it seems that whatever you turn something into, comes out even better. We used to get bananas all the time growing up, being about the cheapest fruit you can buy. Most of them were gone before they would go bad, but every now and then they would start to spot up and get too soft to eat. To me, that’s when they’re just about right! Right for bread that is.

At one time I was making banana bread so often that I knew how to do it without even looking at the recipe. I used the one in mom’s Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book, but when I moved out on my own I had to find a new recipe because I didn’t write it down. I found lots of recipes for adding just about anything to it. I think my favorite was to add chocolate chips. I even tried one recipe that included a spoon of peanut butter in the middle with chocolate chips on top. It was not one that I repeated. I also found out that when I didn’t have 3 brothers to help eat up the bananas, they were ripening before I could even use them for bread. I figured out though that I could just throw them into the freeze, in their peel, and bring them out when I wanted to make banana bread. I just let them thaw in the sink and when it came time to peel them, I could just pinch off the stem end and the banana would come squirting out. They come out self-mashed almost! It’s kinda gross to see, but they work just as well. If they get bitter, add a little extra sugar to your mix.

When mom passed, dad gave me her cookbook. It was one of the only things I really wanted. I use it more than most of my other cookbooks, but I still play with the recipes and make something of my own. Mick’s mom always puts pineapple in her banana bread, so I played with the recipe to add some in. It’s my new favorite, especially since I could combine both of their recipes.

We had a couple of bananas that Mick was about to throw out. He eats them all week, but I don’t like to eat bananas anymore. I guess your taste buds do change over time and I just don’t care for them. Usually, he just tosses them when they begin to get the least bit soft, but he asked me if I wanted to make bread. I think that was his way of hinting that he wanted some, so I made it for breakfast this morning.

Pineapple Banana Bread with Pineapple Glaze

Pineapple Banana Bread with Pineapple Glaze

Needed for the bread:
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
2 ripe bananas
1 8oz can pineapple rings, drain and reserve the juice
1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Needed for the glaze:
1/2 – 1 cup powdered sugar
1 -2 teaspoons of reserved pineapple juice
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add mayonnaise. In a food processor, pulse the pineapple rings until chopped fine, add bananas and pulse until well combined. Add pineapple and banana mixture to the batter and mix well. Sift together the flour, soda, and salt. Add to the batter a little at a time until all is combined. 
Pour into a greased and floured, nine-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 35 to 45 minutes. Check for doneness when a toothpick, inserted, comes out clean and edges of bread begin to pull away from the pan. Let cool 30 minutes and drizzle with glaze.
Glaze directions:
Combine powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon of pineapple juice and mix well. Add a little more juice until mixture is thick enough to hold onto the spoon, spatula or whisk you are using, but loose enough to pour in a steady stream. If too thick, add a little more juice. If too thin, add a little more powdered sugar. Drizzle over bread and serve. There will be enough that you can drizzle over slices before serving if desired.

Now all I need is a good cup of coffee! It’s a cold and rainy day, so warm Pineapple Banana Bread, coffee, and enough time to take a late morning nap will make things right with the world.

I called it!!

Growing up in a large family, you rarely have anything that you can call your own. So when you have an opportunity, you grab it as quickly as you can. Since I was the youngest, my brothers always seemed to have the upper hand. I always got hand-me-downs for clothes. I remember one set of jeans that were brand new, but then one of my brothers got the same ones. They had soup labels all over them and I thought they were great. But since I had the same pair as my brother Bobby, I didn’t have to inherit his.

As I mentioned before, at Christmas our parents tried to make sure that we were all treated equally. That meant that most of what we got was the same, but one or two things were special for each of us. I had gotten a Tonka Dump Truck one year. It must have weighed 20 pounds. It was all metal and so big I could ride in the back of it and I would ride it up and down the driveway. Well, I didn’t have it long before Bobby sold it to our neighbor, Little Richard. Our moms worked it out and I got it back again. I guess Bobby had to pay him back or work it off.

This I think was just like my Tonka Dump Truck. It is for sale on Ebay for $90 and says it’s from 1974, which would be about right. I bet Bobby didn’t get that much for it!

One thing that we each got an opportunity to call our very own was the passenger seat up front in the car, but of course, it was only when just dad or mom was driving. The moment we knew we were going somewhere, we would all start to yell “I’ve got the front seat!” and the first to scream out got it. Mom would usually have to judge who said it first, but that didn’t stop us from arguing about it and we would all demand “I called it!!”. The other three then would scream for a window. The loser would end up in the middle of the back seat.

One of mom’s first cars was a huge yellow station wagon. It was a 9 passenger wagon that had the seat in the very back, which faced the back window. We would call that one too. We got a kick out of seeing where we had been and waving at the cars behind us. One time she was driving to Grandmaw Barton’s and as she turned into the driveway, she sideswiped a tree. The station wagon was so long that you really needed to swing out to make a turn in it. I remember that I was in the back seat and I was telling her that she was hitting the tree. I probably didn’t help her one bit and probably made it worse. She just left the car there and we all got out to look at it. I think my brother Pat had to get behind the wheel and get it off the tree. He was probably 12 or 13, but already a pretty good driver.

This looks pretty close to mom’s wagon. It’s a shame we can’t see the passenger side of it. I would know it was hers if the back door was crushed in.

Once we each began driving and then ended up with our own cars, we stopped calling the front seat. But we replaced it with calling leftovers and marking our food in the fridge. It wasn’t like any of us looked as though we missed a meal, but we called it just the same. Today, most anything we cook, we share it with anyone we can. Mick and I do fight for the passenger seat sometimes though, but that’s just because we don’t feel like driving.

I had a hankerin

Last night I was hankerin for some No Bake Cookies, so I got things started. However, I soon realized that I didn’t have everything I needed, like enough cocoa or enough oatmeal. It’s kind of hard to make them without those 2 things. I found some chocolate chips that I decided to use and I did have plenty of Rice Crispies. I thought I could just substitute these two and it would be fine. I was wrong. The taste was not bad, but the cereal was just chewy, and not in a good way but a stale way. We ended up throwing them out.

I told them at work what I had done. I wasn’t embarrassed for messing them up. You just never know until you try sometimes. Although in this case, I probably should have known. We all got to talking about the No Bake Cookies and how much we now wanted some. It seems all of us in the office like them gooey, while Mick likes them hard. When I got home, I decided to make a batch for work and a batch for home. We got a little snow today, but not enough for snowcream, so I had to make something. For the work batch I used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa and for Mick’s I used regular Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa.

The recipe is simple:

No Bake Cookies, also called Refrigerator Cookies, also called Novacks

2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup peanut butter, creamy or crunchy
3 – 4 cups oatmeal, quick or long cook

In a 3 quart or larger saucepan, combine the sugar, cocoa, butter, and milk. Dissolve sugar and bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Once it comes to a rolling boil, cook for 1 minute or less for gooey cookies or cook for 2-3 minutes for firmer cookies.

Remove from heat and add vanilla and peanut butter and mix until completely combined. Add half the oats and mix well. Continue to add more oatmeal to the mix until the batter begins to stiffen. Scoop cookies with a spoon and set on parchment or wax paper to cool. Once set, store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Grandmaw’s hand

Last night I dreamed that Grandmaw Barton came over to where I was sitting, sat down and took my hand. We just sat there. I can still feel how her hand felt in mine. It was strong, yet fragile. It was cold, but I felt warmth. We said nothing, but I felt so much.

I don’t remember Grandmaw ever holding my hand, but I am sure she did when I was little. I know I wrote in the last post that she could be scary, but that’s just when she would get after us for getting into something, which we did often. I loved and admired her so much and I see lots of her in me. I do remember taking her hand when uncle Lester brought her to dad’s funeral. By that time she was in her early nineties. She was living with Lester and was in a wheelchair. She didn’t have the strength to walk anymore and her eyesight had gone by then. She knew my voice right away though and her mind was very intact.

She passed 3 years ago this month, at the age of 97. In my dream though, she walked over to me and took my hand. I don’t know why I dreamed about her. It could be nothing more than a dream. I am out of town for work this week and we are all staying in an old house that was probably built about 100 years ago, but I don’t think it’s that. She did have the gift of “sight”, or “visions” as she called them. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before. That is one of the things I see in myself that reminds me of her. I sometimes know things, but I don’t have visions in the middle of the day like she did. I do have dreams though that end up being prophetic. I remember them so vividly. I also have visits in my dreams. That’s what I think this was. Perhaps she just wanted to let me know that she is with me, helping watch over me as I am away from home. It was good to see her again.

UPDATE – There was something else about the dream that I didn’t mention. Mainly because it didn’t seem to mean anything to me when I was remembering things. But, after Grandmaw took my hand, another hand laid on top of ours. It was brief, but I remembered it as being a small hand. That’s what I was thinking when I said that I was sure she took my hand when I was little. However, as I had said, I was out of town and internet connections were sketchy all week. The WiFi where we were staying didn’t work and I had very litttle time to be online, although I had time in the early hours of the morning to write the post. Late this afternoon I found out that my niece gave birth to her little girl yesterday evening. When I found out, it hit me that the little hand must have been hers. Grandmaw was either there to introduce us or she was helping me with my sight. So I honestly believe that my nieces great grandmother introduced me to my great niece! Happy Birth Day Ivory Denise!!

A Tale of Witch Hazel and Vicks.

It has been in the teens and single digits for the past couple of weeks, so everyone’s been doing what they can to keep from getting sick. I had my flu shot a couple of months ago, eat oranges and clean the machines at the gym before and after I use them. So far, that has worked for me.

Growing up, we never heard of a flu shot. I am sure they were around, but we never knew about them and never got one. A runny nose or a cough was nothing new with a house full of kids so mom was always setting up the vaporizer and rubbing Vick’s on our chest. And, I seem to remember a mustard paste on my chest a time or two. I can’t remember what else mom would have used the tin of powdered mustard for. If we had cough medicine in the cabinet, it was Vick’s Formula 44. I also remember her mentioning Witch Hazel all the time, but not sure if she used it. It scared me a little bit. Gramdaw’s name was Hazel, and grandmaw could scare you if she wanted to, so Witch Hazel was certainly much scarier. Mom may have put it in the vaporizer a time or two. I think that thing was on in the bedroom we all shared the whole winter through and when one of us was sick, the rest of us would just feel damp by morning. It was bigger around than a basketball and looked like a spaceship with a light mist coming out of the top.

Sometimes just opening the jar and taking a deep breath was all I needed to open my head right up.  In the commercial below, I remember seeing the second half because it reminded me of dad. He was the biggest baby when he would get sick and would look at you everytime he coughed like you gave it to him. We probably did! I think we all made fun of him about this one.

Mom lived by that old saying “Feed a cold, starve a fever.”. Feeding a cold usually meant a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup. We never had homemade. Now that I’m grown, I make soup all winter long. Homemade chicken noodle soup is like mom kissing a boo boo. It just makes it all better. If we had a sore throat, it was a gargle with warm salt water. If we had a cough with that sore throat, a hot mug of lemon and honey water or tea was the remedy. I told you before about the hot toddy that Charlie would make me sometimes after I shoveled their driveway. If I got too hot and started coughing it would help, and sometimes it was to keep a cold away. Well, mom kept a bottle of something in the linen closet for just that occasion too. I doubt there was any more alcohol in the hot toddy than there was in a dose of cough syrup, but it would break things up in your chest and you slept pretty good. Mom would check for a fever first by touching your forehead, then by asking us if we felt like we had a fever. I would usually know if my eyes were burning. I never liked the thermometer. She would pour alcohol over it to sterilize it and it always tasted nasty.

If we just had an upset stomach, we would usually get a Ginger Ale or a flat Coke. I am not sure why it was best if it was flat. I guess your stomach didn’t need the fizz if it was already upset. When I was in elementary school, the office called home one time to tell them that I was sick. Mom and dad had the day off for some reason and picked me up on their way to grandmaw Barton’s house. I kept telling them that I didn’t feel good, but mom thought I just wanted to spend the day with them and they took all the time they needed getting to grandmaw’s and back home. But, when we pulled in the driveway, I jumped out of the car and threw up all over the front steps. I probably skipped dinner and had a flat coke before going to bed that night.

A day home sick meant that we sometimes got to watch tv, curled up on the couch with a blanket. I would usually watch reruns of Gidget, Bewitched, I Love Lucy and Andy Griffith. I’m not sure if the shows made me feel better or being home with just mom and none of my brothers did the trick. I forget about those simple remedies sometimes, and sometimes its best to go to the doctor, get some medicine and get back to life. But, sometimes you just want to curl up on the couch in a comfy blanket and let the ills of the day fall away.

It just wouldn’t be Christmas

I’m sitting here in the quiet of the early morning, drinking my coffee, and thinking of mom. She always got up early. She always had a cup of coffee. I was never much of an early riser, but I would stay up late. Somehow though in the last couple of years, I appreciate being up before even the dogs begin to stir much. I need to do it more often and sit down like this and write. It’s been way too long again.

There are lots of things around this time of year that make me think of mom. She loved Christmas. Now I know lots of people love Christmas, but she really did love it. The lights, the smells, the tastes, the friends; just all of it. She never cooked much, but she did have a few things that she would make that will always feel like Christmas to me.

This year at work, several people that I work with brought in food that we would have had during Christmas. My friend, Reece, who honestly is the same age my parents would have been, brought us all bags of Chex Mix. I think I ate 3 bags full. I can still see mom mixing it up and spreading it out on a couple of cookie sheets and putting it in the oven. She would check it every couple of minutes to stir it. And, of course, a few pieces would always fall off into the oven. Then the house would begin to fill up with the slight smell of burnt toast. Mom would begin to cuss a little.

Then my friend, Nyla, brought us all bags of her cinnamon candy. She makes it every year and I think we talk about how it has always been a tradition in her house. When mom and dad were the youth leaders in our church, we would make candy to sell as a fundraiser. We called it a taffy pull, but it was really just hard candy that we would work with and pull when it was cool enough to handle. We loved making it. When it got time to begin to pull, we would butter our hands all up, pair up with someone and then kept it moving until we got it into ropes about a foot long. Then mom would come along with her scissors and cut the rope into pieces. Each piece would look like little pillows. They would harden up and we would toss them into powdered sugar and then bag them. We had several flavors, each one a different color. I especially loved the red cinnamon, though I don’t eat cinnamon candy any other time of the year. I remember the color of the ice blue ones, but can’t for the life of me remember what that flavor was. We also had a spearmint green and an almost clear peppermint. I hate peppermint, so I never wanted to pull that one. Even the smell to me is repulsive. I must have been tortured in a previous life by having to eat peppermint.

Gale brought in huge navel oranges in the other day too and a couple of us grabbed one up quickly. When my brothers were in FFA, we would always buy or split a case of oranges that they sold as a fundraiser. We didn’t have enough room in our fridge to keep them all so mom would put the case in the basement. Now our basement was just a crawl space, but the front end was about 4 feet high, so there was room for a few things in there. It had a dirt floor and a couple of bins just inside that we also keep potatoes on. From there we would get a few oranges out at a time to keep in the house. We would love it when she would get us all one and cut a small hole out of the top. We would then squeeze the orange and suck the juice out of the hole. It was the juice box of our day. We would keep going on our orange until we got every drop out, then we would peel it and still eat what was left. I haven’t done that in years. I think I’ll drink an orange later today.

Earlier in the week, we all decided to bring something in our last day in the office before Christmas and we would just graze all day long. We ended up with a Croissant and Cream Cheese bake, which was so good. We had sausage biscuits, peanut butter balls, baked brie and I made Pig Candy. Someone also brought a fruit tray so we could feel good about something we ate. It reminded me of moms fruit salad. She would always make a huge gallon jar of it. I think she could’ve bought cans of it cheaper. We all took a few minutes to sit and talk but decided that we needed to at least look like we were working. Mom worked in a clothing factory most of the time we were growing up. On their last day before Christmas, they would all do the same thing, They would sign up and she would carry in a dish of something and a few bottles of Purple Jesus.

We always wanted to help her make Purple Jesus. It was the only time she used her punch bowl set too, well really just the bowl and ladle. I think it was just vodka and grape juice. She would set out the bowl on the counter and we got to help pour in the purple while she poured in the Jesus. Then we would stir it up and she ladled it back into the bottles the juice came out of. We may have dropped a maraschino cherry in each bottle, but I don’t remember. Of course, there was always a drop or two in the bottom of the bowl and she let us run our fingers through the empty bowl to taste. It was always nasty to me. I also hate grape juice or grape jelly. I’m not really a fan of grapes, but I do like some wine, so I bought a few bottles of my version of Purple Jesus this weekend. Anyway, mom would take the bottles to work and then come back home empty-handed and silly. I think dad always picked her up from work that day. I seem to remember having to go back and get her car a few times.

I have a lot of cooking to do today and tomorrow. We always have the family here for holiday dinners. Mick’s family is so much like mine it isn’t funny. My grandmother, on mom’s side, made holiday dinners and we would begin eating at 10:30 or 11:00. Mick’s family is the same way. If the food is not on the table at 11, they begin getting restless. After dinner, we would all end up outside for family pictures if the weather was nice enough. Mick’s mom always brings her camera and snaps several of each of us. We don’t ever get one of all of us, but I just bought myself a very nice camera a few weeks ago, so this year we are setting up the tripod and all getting in one picture together.

It seems that with each meal we have here, one thing on the table doesn’t come out the way it was supposed to, but we try to eat it anyway. It’s always something different; burnt beans or rolls or something. As I said, grandmaw would cook the meal and it was all from scratch. Except for her mashed potatoes. At some point, she decided that instant mashed potatoes went well with her homemade gravy. The mashed potatoes were always the last thing on the stove and mom or aunt Mary would make those since grandmaw did all the rest. One year, mom’s instant mashed potatoes came out so thin we had to pour them over the gravy. We never let her live that down, especially uncle Ray. He was always giving her and Mary a hard time, but he really gave it to mom over those potatoes.  After I moved out on my own, I never had instant again. A couple of years ago though I got the bright idea to use the handy-dandy mixer/chopper/puree contraption that I had. I hadn’t used it in years but thought it would mash the potatoes quickly. It did just that and it puree’d them. They just turned to soup. I just chalked it up to mom wanting to help me out with the dinner and we poured them over the gravy. My mother-in-law reminds me every so often about those potatoes. It brings a smile to my heart.

There is something so peaceful about the early morning hours. I know now why mom would take this time for herself. In a house full, peace was hard to come by. Our house is full of 4 dogs and 5 cats, so the peace is about to end shortly since it will soon be time to feed them. A couple of them are stirring now.

Merry Christmas! May your next few days be filled with all the things that remind you of home and family!

Take Me Home

I read an article this past week that made me a little homesick. But I was homesick for my roots and not where I grew up. It was an article about some women in Buckhannon, WV. My great grandparents had a house there, which my grandparents on my dad’s side inherited. I’ve written about it a little bit before. It was a great old house, probably built around 1900, with a big front porch right on East Main Street. Great granddaddy and grandmaw rented out 3 upstairs apartments to college students attending West Virginia Wesleyan, just a few blocks away.

The entrance to the far left was for the college students. It went right up to the second floor. There were two shared kitchens and one shared bathroom between the three apartments. Once when we stayed, I remember mom cooking breakfast in the front kitchen, where the windows are on the top left.

We spent several vacations, a couple of holidays and family trips in Buckhannon. Of course, we went back for great grandmaw’s funeral and then great grandaddy’s funeral a year later. After my grandparents inherited the house, I spent a couple of summer breaks there too. I feel really fortunate to have known my great-grandparents and to remember things about them. Great grandmaw Edge told me a secret once and I’ve never told anyone what it was. It wasn’t really a secret, but she started out with “You want to know a secret?”, so it’s always been a secret to me and I will take it to my grave. One day I’ll remind her of it. I’ve been told that I can keep a secret. Perhaps it started right there with her. She passed not long after that, so it was all I had to remember her by. I guess if you are going to inherit something from your family, someone’s trust is a pretty good thing to get. Great granddaddy always reminded me of George Burns. He also smoked a cigar. He also dressed every day. By that I mean he wore dress pants and a white dress shirt every day. Several of his white shirts though had a blackish, brownish stain in the breast pocket. He was known for putting what was left of his cigar in his pocket and I guess it wasn’t always out. He chewed really fast too. I think I got the giggles one time at the table watching him eat.

You would cross the railroad tracks and the bridge over the Buckhannon River, then when you turned the corner onto Main Street. Today you see this mural of the city seal.

The town was special to me too. It felt like a second home then. The house sat right across from the Bicentennial Motel. Next to that was the town pool. The first summer I spent with my grandparents, I got to know a distant cousin. She was staying with her grandmother, my great aunt Betty, across town. We went to the pool almost every day for a couple of weeks. With it being right across from the house, when we wanted lunch or a snack, we just ran home and then ran back to the pool. Just a few blocks up the street, into town, was the Dairy Queen stand. Mom and grandmaw would walk up with us after dinner for a dipped cone. Mom loved ice cream, so I think it was more of a treat for her than it was for us. Just beyond that was a 5 & 10. I saved up my allowance for one summer and would go to the 5 & 10 and just walk around, trying to figure out what I could buy. I don’t think I ever bought anything but a postcard or two for some friends back home. There was Cochran Motors on the other side of downtown. I was convinced that we were related to the owners because my grandmaw’s maiden name was Cochran. She assured me that her family was never rich and could never have afforded the nice cars on that lot. The Strawberry Festival Parade would go right past the house each year. We were only there for one parade that I remember and I was so sick with tonsillitis that I ended up on the couch inside the whole time.

The Dairy Queen stand we would walk to after dinner. I can’t believe it is still there. This is a current picture of it and it looks the same as it did 40 years ago.

Grandmaw went to Mable’s Beauty Salon next door to get her hair done. Granddaddy shopped at the Piggly Wiggly. I went with him once and we got what we needed, headed back out and put all the bags on the floorboard of the back seat. We each got in and granddaddy tried to start the car, but he couldn’t get the key to go in. He looked up into the rearview mirror and asked me why I put all my stuffed animals in the window. I told him I didn’t and I turned around. I told him I didn’t have any stuffed animals. We realized we were in the wrong car. He got real nervous and we got our things out and found his car a few rows over. He told me not to tell grandmaw when we got back, but no sooner than we got in the door, he told her what we did. She scolded him for it and I got the biggest kick out of it. She laughed about it after, but I think she wanted to give him a hard time first. He always did the grocery shopping and she did all the cooking. I specifically remember her making us pepperoni rolls that night. I had never had pepperoni with anything but pizza. I loved them. They were just rolls with a slice in the middle and baked. I later found out that it’s truly a West Virginia thing. Miners would take them in their lunch because they would not spoil.

Aunt Betty was granddaddy’s sister and was married to Uncle Hugh. He was probably my favorite uncle of all time. He was such a kind and gentle man but had a deep voice and big rough hands. He was tall and thin and was always dressed nicely. I remember him wearing a yellow sweater. He loved to tell us jokes and his laugh was also deep, loud and raspy. Uncle Hugh had been a coal miner but was retired by the time I was born because he apparently had black lung. He died about the same time my great-grandparents did. When I spent a couple of summers with my grandparents, it was just my Aunt Betty.

As far back as I can remember, I was always singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. I thought that song was written just for us. Of course, it talked about West Virginia, but it also mentioned right away the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River, both of which were in my backyard growing up in Shenandoah County, VA. I would sing the heck out of that song and as I grew older, I was teased for looking like John Denver. I had a mop of blonde hair and by the seventh grade, I had glasses too. I took it as a compliment though and would start singing the song. Thankfully I could actually sing and the ribbing stopped. In elementary school, the substitute P.E. teacher would ask me to sing it when we were on the swings. It was my theme song.

It all started with a hump in the floor.

Well, we’ve started another major renovation at our house. This time it’s the kitchen. It was just about a year ago that we did the bathroom. The contractor says it will take about a month and we are half way into it. Things are going well so far and we are excited to see progress.

We cleared out the kitchen for them to get started. Now the fridge and stove are sitting in the dining room. At least we are able to fix some simple things to eat while the rebuild continues.

It all started with a hump in the floor. Gosh, that’s a great line. Now I have to go back and make that the title of this post. So don’t be surprised when you read it again. From there we gutted the whole thing and started all over again. The hump turned out to be the original brick foundation from 1930, which was still doing its job of holding up the house. Only now it was holding it up in the wrong spot. Apparently, the house had been added onto. Since then, the rest of the floor had settled about an inch and a half, according to the contractor.

When the floor came out, joists and all, we looked at the ductwork all piled up in a heap three feet below where the floor had been. Luckily when this all started, the weather was nice and mild. We kept the windows open and nice breezes kept us very comfortable and sometimes it even got chilly. That was last week. On Friday we went out to grab a bite to eat and take the clothes to the laundry mat, something neither of us had done since we were kids. When we got home and opened the door, the heat nearly knocked us down. It was 89 degrees in the house! It was only 70 outside. I balanced my way to the thermostat to turn off the heat, wondering how in the world it got turned on. I looked at it and it was blank. It was in the off position. But, it was blowing out hot air as hard as it could. We turned off the breaker and opened every window and door, turned all the fans on high and stripped down the bare minimum.

In between the ladder and the ductwork is where the original brick foundation was. They removed that, encapsulated the space and today the sub-floor went down. The doorway to the laundry room was removed and a short wall will now separate the fridge from the washer and dryer.

Tomorrow we have a heating guy coming to see what’s wrong with it. Since Friday it’s been in the upper 80’s in the house just from the heat of the day. No more 70-degree weather it seems. Neither of us remembers how we stood it as kids. We didn’t grow up with air conditioning. I know we didn’t even have a window unit until I was at least in high school. I think we always stayed out way past dark playing.

We had a pop-up camper in the back yard that we would sleep in some nights in the summer. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I guess we slept out there when it was just unbearable in the house. Dad sold it at some point and I remember mom always being mad about that. I don’t think they finished paying him for it and she never let him live that one down. We also slept on the front porch sometimes. We would get our sleeping bags and lay them out on the cool concrete. Some nights we would tie a blanket or sheet to the railings to cover us from the dew. Bootsy, our collie that we grew up with, would sleep at the top of the porch steps and keep guard over us. Nothing and nobody was getting past her. When we were teenagers we had a big tent that we used in the back yard. We pulled an extension cord through the bedroom window out to it and set it up like our bedroom with a lamp and radio, and we stayed out there as long as we could.

This was not our pop-up, but the kind that we had. We camped a lot when we were kids, and not just in the back yard.

We also used our pop-up and tents to actually go camping. We had the George Washington National Forrest, Camp Roosevelt, Fort Valley and other places to camp in. One camping trip I am fortunate enough not to remember, but I was told about many times. When I was just about 2 or 3 years old, we were camping with mom’s brother and his family. Mom had gone into the camper to make herself a cup of coffee and I followed. She turned around for one second and that was all it took for me to reach up and pull that cup down off the short counter in that camper and all over myself. Her first instinct was to get the burn out with cold water. We were camping by the river, so she grabbed me and got me in the ice-cold mountain stream as quickly as she could. She said that when she grabbed me, her thumb went through the skin on my shoulder. My aunt and uncle prayed for me and told my mom I was going to be ok. Mom said that she was glad they prayed, but they were still taking me to the hospital. I spent 72 hours packed in ice with 3rd degree burns down the right side of my body. Like I said, I don’t remember any of it. I am also fortunate that I don’t have a single mark, scar or blemish from it. Not even where mom’s thumb went through my skin. The doctors told them that getting me in the cold mountain water so quickly probably even saved my life.

When we would visit granddaddy and grandmaw Edge, they always had air conditioning. If the parsonage didn’t have it, they had a window unit. We would visit them most summers for our vacation and I loved standing in front of that air conditioner, breathing in that ice cold air, just as it came out of the vent. It would almost take your breath away. It was wonderful. It smelled like what cold should smell like to me.

I’ve never been one to complain about the cold. You will not hear me go on about it in the winter. But, in the summer, I never stop complaining. I always say I keep better in the cold – I spoil in the heat!

A Tale of a trip around the sun

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I started The Appalachian Tale. I look back over the year and I have made quite a bit of progress on it but at the same time not nearly as much as I thought I would. I always think I have more time to do something than I really do. I am going to push myself to spend more time on it though. The older I get, the more I remember what happened decades ago and forget more and more what happened weeks ago. I guess the silver lining there is, I will remember those things in a few years.

So here we are, a full trip around the sun later, and what have I told you? What have I learned myself in this experience? Where does this all go? I will probably repeat myself over time, so just prepare yourself for that. I don’t read as much as I would like, so there is a good chance I won’t read back to see if I have already talked about something. There is lots more to tell about Mary and Charlie. They meant so much to me growing up. I need to revisit MaryAnne, my grandmaw Barton, my grandparents on dad’s side, some more of the kids I spent my early days running with and get a few more recipes in. I will, of course, tell you more about my parents and my brothers. Maybe I will throw in a few stories that others have told me too.

My second entry was for #NationalSiblingsDay and here we are again. I pulled back from social media personally a while back. Mostly because I wanted to focus more on The Appalachian Tale and I work on social media for work, so I have enough of it to fill my time. I don’t get to speak to my brothers as often and I was a little more up to date on what they were doing before, but that’s ok. We know the other is there if we need anything. All we have to do is holler.

Here we all are, sitting on the couch in grandma Barton’s living room. This was the room that we rarely got to go into. In later years it held all of the items that we ever gave her or made for her. That couch was the scratchiest thing there ever was. I never did like touching it, much less sitting on it. Left to right: Ricky, me, Bobby, & Pat. Pat’s grandson looks exactly like him today.

Mom once told me that my oldest brother used to spend a lot of time keeping me quite. He realized that if I had a pacifier in my mouth, I didn’t scream. So, he made it his mission to keep me from screaming. Apparently, I made it my mission to spit that thing out every chance I got. As you can tell, I have not shut up since. I think Rick gave up.

Some of my oldest memories of growing up involved my brothers tormenting me. Every now and then they would bring in reinforcements to help. There was the time that they put all of the cushions from the couch in the middle of the living room floor. Then they grabbed me and began to throw me against the ceiling, just to watch me hit the floor. I am comforted in my memories that they took the time to pad the floor. I don’t think they did as much for Bobby. And there was the time that one of my brothers came up with the hairbrained idea to see how long one of us could survive in the fold-out couch, folded up. Now I don’t mind a tight space, but that was too much. But again, I think Bobby got it worse than I did.

This was in our den. We grew up in a 3 bedroom house. For the longest time us 4 boys had the master bedroom with 2 sets of bunkbeds. My parents took one of the other rooms, and the 3rd was our den. It helped keep the mess down. That was our play room for several years. At some point we needed more room to spread out and my parents ended up in the master finally. Left to right: Ricky, Bobby, me, mom, & Pat.

My mom must certainly have a special set of wings and the brightest halo in heaven today. All the things we put her through, and she still came back for more. She didn’t go to work outside the house until I was in kindergarten. When she did, I think she always counted us to see if we were all still there when she got home. Sometimes we grew, but she didn’t mind a neighborhood hooligan being added to the bunch. What she did mind was finding a new hole in a door or a piece of furniture broken. She had some “nice things” that she put up for when she really needed them or was afraid that they would get destroyed by us. We were the reason we could not have nice things. Today I have some of those nice things, so I guess it worked.

This is on the back porch steps at grandma and granddaddy Edge’s house. I know I am pretty young here, but I seem to remember them having a dog that was out in that back yard. Several years later they would get a small dog they kept inside. I have no idea why Ricky is raising his hand. It looks like Bobby that has to go pee. Left to right: Ricky, Bobby, Pat, me, and mom.

Stinking’ to high heaven

It’s really warmed up the last few days around East Tennessee, where I live today. We went up to mom & dad’s this morning and found mom in the garage splitting kindling. When I refer to mom & dad in the present day, it’s really Mick’s parents. We asked her what in the world she was doing making more kindling. She said it was such a nice warm day, she thought she would get it done. She has a room in the garage that she spends time in with her cats, listens to a basketball game on the radio sometimes, and keeps a fire in the stove from October to March. In the house, they have central heat, but she builds a fire in the garage every day. Even when it snows, she will clear a path to the garage and build a fire so she can warm up from being out in the snow…. clearing that path. It makes her happy, so as long as she can do it, she will and we will look on in wonderment.

The drive up was beautiful. The fields are all clear, but not yet turned over. It won’t be long before they are prepared for corn, tomatoes, soybeans, and maybe some tobacco. I saw bundles of tomato stakes at one farm as we drove by. Some of the fields are beginning to green up. You can see forever to the ridges in the distance. Daffodils are popping up in the front yards of long ago abandoned shacks. I imagine some of these were once vibrant homes of sharecroppers. I wish I had gotten a picture of one we drove past. The roof was beginning to collapse, the porch steps almost gone, but in an almost perfect row were the daffodils standing tall and bright yellow. Hope rising, as decay reclaims timbers to the soil.

Dad has already turned the garden once. He is waiting for another snow so it will add some nitrates to the soil. They were talking about getting some cabbage out soon. They do grow some of the most beautiful cabbage. Mom knows I like to make cole slaw, so they put out some just to give us. I always prefer to use fresh cabbage instead of pre-shredded and bagged. I think it makes all the difference in the world. When you shred fresh cabbage, it releases much more flavor into the slaw.

Mary showed me how to make cole slaw many years ago and over time I developed my own recipe. I keep it simple. I don’t add carrot or onion, although many do. I stick with traditional cabbage, but if you want to add purple cabbage, it’s entirely up to you. As I said, I keep it simple, and the recipe is a simple formula:

1 head of cabbage
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup soured milk (mix 1/2 milk and 1/2 vinegar) You could also use buttermilk
1/4 cup of sugar
salt & pepper to taste

I shred the cabbage on what Mary called the ole knuckle buster, toss it into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. I taste it after it is mixed and add whatever is needed for taste. Sometimes it’s a little more salt, sometimes more vinegar, and sometimes more sugar. I like the blend of tangy and sweet, with that bite of fresh cabbage. Then I like to let it set for a couple of hours in the fridge.

The ole knuckle buster, as Mary would call it. It’s quick and easy to use. I prefer it over a food processor for shredding the cabbage.

Got all my ingredients together. I usually sour
the milk first and let it sit while I shred
the cabbage.

Mix well and adjust for taste.
I know I said to let it sit for a couple of hours, but I always try just a little right after I make it.

Mick won’t eat cole slaw. He can’t stand the smell of it, especially when I open the bowl and that first whiff of “freshness” hits you. He also won’t eat potato salad. That is another thing I specialize in, which Mary also taught me how to make. He will eat hard boiled eggs, but not egg salad, and he would die if he had to eat a deviled egg. But, I don’t mind that he turns his nose up to them. These are all favorites of mine and I am happy to have them all to myself.

Another thing that we saw on the way up to mom and dad’s was a dead skunk on the side of the road and we saw some yesterday. I’ve seen them all week going to and from work. I don’t know why so many are out and about, but perhaps it’s the warm weather. Perhaps they are getting a little early spring fever. At any rate, it’s not been good for them. I looked for this song that my mom played in the car when we were kids. We played it over and over. I guess it was on an 8-track and I am sure it was in mom’s Dodge Demon. It was yellow with a black stripe down the side. At the end of the stripe, there was a Tasmanian devil. Mom loved that car. It was her first. She didn’t get her driver’s license until after I was in kindergarten. We went everywhere in that car and we wore the 8-track out. The song was Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road, and you could hear us all sing it at the top of our lungs as we barreled down the open road.

The Tale of a Singer and the pincushion

It’s funny, all the names people come up with for their grandmothers. We called each of ours “grandmaw”, but when we spoke of them we added their last name. It was like they played on grandparent sporting leagues or something. Sometimes we would call them by name; “Grandmaw Barton, can I go…. or Grandmaw Edge, can I have a…”. We did the same with Granddad. Sometimes we called them Granddaddy too.

I’ve been thinking about grandmaw Barton this past week. It’s been two years now since she passed. She was 97 years old. Next month will be her 100th birthday. I should make her Applesauce Cake, only she never gave out the recipe, to anything. She just knew how to make it, make anything. I spent a couple of weeks with her the summer after granddaddy died and I asked her how she knew to do this or that. She always replied “I just figured it out. Somebody did it before I did, so I figured I could.”, and she did.

She had a wooden nativity set that she made and painted herself, furniture that she reupholstered, chairs that she re-wove, and she could sew anything. I like to think that I get so much from her. I look at something and I think “I can do that”, and then I do it. I too have taught myself to reupholster furniture, cane chairs, refinish, knit, build, sew, wallpaper, paint, cook, and I guess basically survive. I know my limits and will get someone who knows what they are doing when needed, but I like a challenge too. I also have her gift of sight. She called them “visions”. She always knew when something was going on. I tend to know too. I also know which friends I will know when we grow old. I can see them as an old person. It doesn’t mean that someone won’t grow old if I can’t see them, I think we just won’t be in touch when we are old. I don’t share what I know as often as I used to. I don’t know if I see as often as I used to either.

Grandmaw Barton’s patchwork quilts. These are my Quilts of Many Colors.

I have a few of her things, some she gave me and some that were passed on to me. I have a couple of her handmade patchwork quilts. I don’t even know how many of them she made over the years, probably hundreds. She made me one when I moved out on my own and then gave me one the last visit we had before her house burned. That is another Tale for another time. I have a metal stool that she painted blue and white that she gave me. I love the folk art look of the way she painted it. It doesn’t match anything in the house, but it matches my memories of her perfectly. I also have her 1947 Singer Sewing Machine. I remember when she gave it to mom. It used to sit in grandmaw’s front room. She wanted mom to have it. Mom had an electric sewing machine, but I think it had quit working. It still sat in their bedroom as a piece of furniture for years. We loaded grandmaw’s Singer in the back of mom’s car and took it home and she put it in the living room. She actually used it a couple of times and then moved it to the hallway, where it sat for many years. Before dad got sick, he asked me to come visit, that there were a couple of things that he wanted to give me. I left with grandmaw’s sewing machine and his bookcase. He knew I had an appreciation for antiques and family history and he knew I would take care of them. I will pass them on to one of my nieces or nephews one day. I just have to make sure they understand the history behind them.

Grandmaw Barton’s sewing machine now sits in my living room.

One day I will replace the leather belt and get the treadle moving again. 

Grandmaw Barton took care of everything she had. When you grow up with very little, sometimes you learn to appreciate everything you have. In the top left drawer of the Singer cabinet, there is a box with the Singer logo on top. Inside are the original parts, bobbins, and manual. That was the drawer she kept them in, where mom left them, and where I have left them. The cabinet itself has seen some wear to the finish, but that is to be expected, and a few years back the leather belt on the wheel broke from drying out. I keep meaning to replace the belt. It will still work once I do that. I remember grandmaw treadling away on it that summer I spent and mom doing the same when it was given to her. There is an unmistakable sound to the treadle going back and forth, the wheel spinning, and the machine coming alive. I can even hear mom’s old electric sewing machine in my head. It had a hum to it just before the needle would make a whirling sound that turned into a rhythmic pounding, accompanied by the offbeat clacking of the spool of thread on top. There was also the sound of mom cussing when the thread broke. She working in a sewing factory for years when we were young but didn’t sew too much at home. I think she was a cutter at Aileen and not a sewer most of that time. Our neighbor, Anne, worked at Wrangler as a sewer, so I am sure she told mom exactly how to do it.

The top left drawer still holds the original box of attachments and owners manual, which is how I know she bought it in 1947. My mom would have been 5 years old when she bought it and my grandmother would have been 30.

The parts look brand new.

Grandmaw Edge made all of her own clothes. When we would visit, she would sometimes still have a dress pattern out on the dining room table. Since they moved from one parsonage to another, there wasn’t always room for a sewing room, so she made do. It’s funny, I don’t remember her sewing machine or ever seeing her sew. I remember one house that had a sewing room, or a room that we were not allowed in. Most of the time that was granddaddy’s office. One year for Christmas, she made all of us robes and mom a new housecoat. In the pocket of each was a small Whitman’s Sampler. Each was a different color and I don’t think I had mine for very long before I grew out of it. I probably inherited one of my brothers, as I got a few hand-me-downs if they weren’t worn out. There was a pillow that she made me when I was sick with tonsillitis. It was from a pattern she got with one of her dress patterns, I think. It was a cat with kittens. Ironically, it was under my bed when our pregnant cat went into labor and she used it to give birth on. I threw it out.

Grandmaw Barton had a pincushion that sat on a bookshelf in her kitchen. She had a chair in the kitchen, by a window, where she sat each day to watch the birds, read her bible, and do any hand work that needed done. Her bookshelf held just a few things; her bible, pincushion, sewing box, a jar of buttons, reading glasses, a couple of pictures, a place for her cup of coffee, and a few books she would be reading. We could only sit in her chair when she was up doing other things, and we couldn’t bother things. It was granddaddy’s chair before he died.

Mary kept a pincushion on her dresser and would bring it out to the living room in the evening. As she and Charlie would sit and watch Wheel Of Fortune, she would be sewing something. She had a jar of buttons too. When their grandkids were visiting for the summer or I was helping Charlie in the garden or yard, she was quick with a sewing kit to mend a tear or replace a button. She made quilts too and pillows for their front porch furniture.

Sewing was just something that they all did. It was a skill, a trade, a chore, a hobby, or a pastime. A friend, Nyla, shared a picture of her mom’s and grandmother’s button box and sewing notions yesterday, and it got me thinking about my grandmothers and Mary. These were important to them. These were necessities, but also niceties. Buttons did more than just hold something together. They had style before function. Their scissors were important and serious tools too. You could not play with them. They had specific ones that stayed in their sewing kits and they cut nothing but fabric with them. Mom’s scissors were all metal with black painted handles and seemed like they were a foot long. They were huge and heavy. She kept them in the bottom drawer in the kitchen. There was also an unmistakable sound to them. You could hear the metal against metal as the blades passed one another and then it ended in a clapping kind of sound as the handles came together.

Nyla’s mom, Cosette, and her grandmother, Pearl, kept buttons and sewing kits in an old tin. The New York World’s Fair was held in 1939. I would love to see if one of those keys fit my grandmother’s Singer. The middle drawer folds out and has a lock on it, but no key. Luckily it is unlocked.

These are now treasures that we hold close and use when we can. It gives us an opportunity to hold hands with the generations that came before us. When I buy something that has extra buttons in the pocket, I keep them. I never really thought about it, but I guess it goes back to seeing the buttons that grandmaw Barton and Mary kept. They have come in handy over the years. I just have a small bag of buttons and not a jar. I don’t think about saving the buttons from anything that I wear out, but then again I don’t tend to wear something out as much as I grow out of it and I just give it away. I know the quilts I have were made from scraps of old clothes that grandmaw had, where she kept any part of that was useable and found another purpose for. The cloth went into the rag box and the buttons went into the jar.