A hot toddy and a few bucks in my pocket

There were many opportunities to make a little money. I had a bike for transportation and I could ride for miles. I don’t know if my parents knew it or not, but I would make it as far as the truck stop, where I would later get my first job, and on the way meet up with a friend named Randy. We would make our rounds to the vending machines outside the entrance, and with a quick sweep of the ground, we could almost always find enough change to buy a coke and a bag of chips. Sometimes we would have a little change to put in our pockets. I don’t guess that really qualifies as making money, but it was a risky opportunity that took time, skill and patience. We didn’t do it for very long. Riding our bikes in and out, around the tractor trailers, was not very advisable. And, the money was not something you could count on.

I spent one summer following my older brother, Bobby, around on a couple of his mowing jobs. I wasn’t really old enough to take on the mower, but I could scan the yard for rocks and I could weed eat, which then meant taking a pair of garden shears to the grass around the rocks. I usually ended up just pulling the grass up. It was quicker and easier. My mom showed me that and she could pull grass quicker than anyone you’ve ever seen. I think she took out some frustrations doing it. I can’t imagine what frustration she could have had with a husband, four boys, a cat and a few dogs.

I soon graduated to mowing and my brother moved on to other jobs. He ended up working on a small farm with a few horses for quite a while. So I ended up with a small business of my own. It was basically two clients, with an occasional one thrown in here and there. The Conners and Mrs. Hockman were my main employers. Although with Mary and Charlie Conner, I would not always work. There were so many times that I just helped and sometimes I would get a few bucks. I did get paid to mow their yard, though. I think we worked out a deal for $3 and eventually, we went up to $5.  I got really good at getting as close to the rocks and flower beds with that mower so I would have less to weed eat afterward. When I was done, Charlie would have me “come sit down” on the back porch and Mary would bring me a glass of iced tea or cool aid.

Mrs. Hockman and I had a routine. Each week I would knock on the back door and she would take me around the yard to show me what she wanted mowed and where the weeds needed pulled. It was always the same, but she would show me anyway. Mrs. Hockman was a widow. I never knew Mr. Hockman. He had been gone for many years. She was just a wisp of a woman, very petite, standing no more than 4 foot 10 inches. I was taller than she was by the end of the first summer that I worked for her. She had what I thought was the nicest house in our neighborhood. It had been there forever. Which when I was a kid, meant it must have been there since the 40’s or 50’s. Her front yard was not very big and didn’t take but about 15 minutes to mow. There was an old barn/garage on the left with a sidewalk and block wall from there to the house. Along that sidewalk was an old bbq grill built into the block wall. I always thought that was the neatest thing. You could tell it had not been used in years. The grill rack was rusted away, but the bones of the structure were still there. The lawn in front of the bbq was perfectly flat and rectangular. You could just imagine the family cookouts they must have had there over the years. They lived there for a long time before other houses were built. The other side of her front yard was about the same, but then it opened up to a huge garden that she and her family would put out every year. Her kids didn’t live far away. In the back, she had a couple of acres. It had been a small working farm at one point. There were old chicken houses in the very back and a couple of tool sheds and an old smoke house. She had a canning kitchen just a few feet away from the back door. She would only have me mow the back area once every couple of weeks so it would be broken up each time to make it more manageable. She would often meet me at the back door with a glass of water or iced tea as well when I finished. It was what you did back then. We didn’t have bottled water to carry with us from job to job and we could only get a coke from the machine at the gas station or at Markley’s store.

I rarely went into Mrs. Hockman’s house. She did have me scrape and paint some upstairs windows for her once and I seem to remember moving some boxes for her. Her house was just as nice inside as I had imagined. Lot’s of dark wood and tons of windows. She had a dining room and a formal living room. I usually only saw those when we went to grandmaw and granddaddy’s house if the parsonage they were living in at the time had them.

So a few summers were busy with my clients, but the winters became pretty lean. I did spend the spring with Charlie helping to put out the garden, but that was just time spent with him learning. I would not have taken money for that. And then I spent some time in the summer and fall with Mary helping to put up whatever came out of the garden. There were lots of moments on the back porch snapping beans or shucking corn. In the winter, we would pray for snow. It almost always meant a snow day from school. But just one. We would go to school with feet of snow on the ground and the roads packed with snow and ice. They just needed a day to get the main roads cleared and chains on the buses. But, that initial snow meant people needed shoveled out. Not that they were going anywhere, but just in case they wanted or needed to go somewhere. Mom and dad would get mad because we would get to them last. But, we had potential customers to get to. We would usually be out of the house earlier on a snow day than we would be on a school day.

We would grab the snow shovel, the shovel used for digging a hole, the broom, the hoe, or basically anything that would move snow and head out to the neighbors. I always took the Connors and Mrs. Hockman. After all, they were my clients. Mrs. Hockman only needed her front walk cleaned so she could get her mail and maybe the back walk so she could get to the canning kitchen. I would shovel out the driveway, front steps and make a path to the back door for Mary and Charlie. If it was really cold, I would take a break and come in for something hot to drink. But, if I could make it, I would finish the whole job in one run.

Shoveling snow is hard work and you always end up sweating, your nose runs and then you begin coughing. Charlie would see this as something that needed remedied. He knew just was the doctor ordered. He would often times make me a hot toddy. In the summer he would make dandelion wine on the back porch. In the winter he would use that to warm things up a bit. So, a little homemade wine, honey, hot water and a tea bag would set me straight. I would be warm in no time at all. I doubt he put much wine in it. I am sure it was just that it was hot. When I really did have a cold, it would clear your throat, though.

So, a snow day meant I was gonna make a few bucks and likely get a good stiff drink. Well, for a kid it was enough to then stagger through the snow to Markley’s and get a coke and a bag of chips or something. By then I would be sobered up and come home to watch reruns of I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith, or maybe take a nap and sleep it off.

Moms a cussin’, and it’s the camel’s fault

It would have been this weekend 40 years ago, and for many years before and many years after, that mom would have gotten out her Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. She would turn to tab number 8 for cookies and page 149. Right there, was the only recipe for cookies that she would use for Christmas; Sugar Cookies.

You can see the stains of a well-used page. It’s a simple recipe that holds so many memories.

Her big Sunbeam Mixmaster would come off the top shelf and it was time to get started. Creaming the sugar and shortening, adding the vanilla and being taught how to crack an egg – this is when a kid realizes that mom is a magician. When the dough is done, it would go on the bottom shelf in the fridge and we would spend the hour cleaning up and getting ready to roll it out, cut it, and bake.

This isn’t mom’s. Her’s died and sat in the kitchen closet for a few years before she threw it out. I think hers had metal bowls instead. When I could afford my own stand mixer, I got a new Sunbeam Mixmaster for myself for Christmas one year. A couple of years ago Mick got me a KitchenAid and attachments.

Mom had a small set of aluminum cookie cutters. There was a Santa with a pack on his back, a bell, a star, an angel and a tree. There was one more and mom used to cuss it every time we used it, the one-hump camel.

These are similar to the ones that mom had. I don’t know if one of my brothers has her cutters or not. I remember them always being in the bottom drawer in the kitchen. 

We would always cut the cookies out on the kitchen table. Mom would flour the table and roll what she needed of the dough out with her wooden rolling pin, the one I have today. Then we would each get to take a cookie cutter and begin. We each had our favorite, but of course, we each wanted a turn with the camel. There would be other opportunities to get mom to cuss over Christmas, but this was too easy and it would not be our fault.

You see the problem with the camel is not that he had one hump, but that he had 2 legs. Legs which never wanted to come out of the cookie cutter. It did not matter how much mom would flour the dough before we cut it or even if you tried to flour the cutter, one of his legs would still stick and break off trying to get him out. These cutters had backs and handles, so you could not just push the cookie out, you had to shake it. All of them stuck to some degree. There we were, flour all over the table, our hands, and the cookie dough and we would commence to shaking. Every now and then Santa or an angle would take flight as they broke free of their aluminum chamber. Not the camel, though. He was humped in and hunkered down. Eventually, we would give up and take a butter knife and either set him free or carve him up. Mom would do her best plastic, or dough, surgery to whichever leg didn’t make it out.

This would be the camel with the detaching limbs. Sometimes we would just eat the broken leg raw. I know, you are not supposed to let your kids eat raw cookie dough. We survived better than the camel did.

Next, it was off to the oven. We gave them a generous amount of sprinkling with plain ole white sugar. We didn’t get into fancy sprinkles or colored sugars. We tried, but plain sugar always worked for us. It would always be my older brother’s jobs to keep an eye on the clock; eight minutes. When they were golden brown, mom would pull them out of the oven and set them on top of the stove. We only had a couple of cookie sheets, so we had to wait for those to cool a bit, get the cookies off and place a whole new batch. We also didn’t have any racks to put the cookies on to cool. Mom just laid out some clean dish towels and that worked pretty well. Some of the cookies might have had a little fuzz on the back if they were still hot when we took them off the sheets and laid them on the towels, but oh well.

As we moved through all the dough and mom fixed several broken legs, we would notice that some of the cookies began to stick to the cookie sheet when they came out of the oven. We may have been a little too generous with the sugar. We got to eat the broken cookies right then! And, you guessed it, I got a few legs and my brothers got a few humps.

When all the cookies were cooled, mom would put them in a lard tin she kept in the hall closet. It was the utility closet and always stayed cool, I guess because the pipes from the basement came up through there. She would pull out what we could eat into a smaller metal cookie tin. It had a pretty designed, colored lid and was still bigger than I could hold as a kid. I have no idea what ever happened to that old tin, but for years that was where we would find our Christmas cookies. If someone gave us a plate of cookies, they went in that tin too. Sometimes we would look in there in the spring and find a cookie or two that we had never eaten. They may have not been as fresh, but we didn’t care much. Who could resist a Christmas cookie in April?

I don’t really remember any other treats at Christmas, except a box of navel oranges that we kept in the basement and some years mom would make a tub of fruit salad. There were the mixed nuts that mom would get, but we could never crack them open by ourselves much. The nut bowl, for a long time, would go back up on the top shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets. Maybe mom kept it there so she could have them, I don’t know. Eventually, it went on the coffee table. Maybe that was when we were older and not as apt to accidentally take an eye out with one of the picks. And yes, I did say accidentally. Lots of things that happened to us growing up were by accident on purpose. As we got older, the camel may have accidentally on purpose lost a leg so we could hear mom cuss. I would give anything to hear her say “You damn camel!”  again.

A Tale of All Hallows Eve

Tonight we had about 18 Trick-or-Treaters. It was a nice evening, so I am not sure why we didn’t have more. We’ve had as many as 75 in past years. When my brothers and I were young, we never had trick-or-treaters to our house. We lived up on a hill in our neighborhood and no one wanted to walk all the way up our driveway. And, our dog would probably have run them off anyway. We were the ones out on all hallows eve.

We would get ready as early as we could. If it was on a school night, we would start getting dressed as soon as we got home and then we bugged mom and dad about going until they finally gave in. We had the same route, pretty much all of our lives. Main street in Toms Brook was where the action was, and we were right in the middle of it. We would all get loaded in the car and dad would pull up to the curb somewhere near the school or the Post Office. Mom would walk with us and we would start door to door.

We didn’t have many costumes to wear, so we mostly made our own. Miniature hoboes were always a sure fire hit. We would take one of dad’s t-shirts and stuff a pillow under it to make us fat. Some of mom’s eyebrow pencil would dirty up our faces pretty well. Mom had one wig in the closet that she used to wear and one of us would end up with those black curly locks on our head with a trucker’s hat from dad as well. We had the look down pretty good and it made us seem pitiful enough to warrant getting lots of candy. There may have been a couple of years that we had a store bought costume. I think there was a Casper The Friendly Ghost. I am sure there was a Planet of the Apes one somewhere. But, those would have been passed around between us until they wore out.

In Toms Brook, we would hit all the regular houses. We knew who would try to scare us as we walked up. Although it didn’t matter that we knew it beforehand, we still jumped and screamed. I think one of those was a preacher’s house. He would be out on the porch in some outfit and as we got close, bam, there he came toward us. I seem to remember one or more of us running off.

Some Halloween nights were nice like tonight and some were cold. There was one night I remember that it rained like crazy. That didn’t stop us, though. We used paper bags back then to put our candy in. Some years we got creative and took one bag and cut it up to make handles for our candy bag. These were so big that you could almost collect your weight in goodies. We never got much chocolate I don’t think. We did get lots of hard candy, sour candy like Smarties, popcorn balls and some gave out apples. Our bags would be so heavy by the time we were done. The year that it rained, our bags were particularly full. I guess other kids didn’t go out and we got their stash too. We were walking up the side of the street and the rain was just pouring down on us. We were crying because our makeup was washing off and whoever had the mask couldn’t see. Our bags were getting too heavy and even though we were raking it in, we just were not happy about it. I am sure mom was even less thrilled. As we were walking I remember Pat getting really upset. As we all looked at him, there went all of his candy into the street and the gully wash of water was going by so fast that it washed all of his candy down the gutter. His paper bag had gotten so wet and was so heavy that the bottom let loose. I think mom grabbed an apple before it was gone and tried to give it back to him, but he threw it down in the water and stomped on.

The only thing that could save this night was our final stop at the Stoneburner’s. Mr. & Mrs. Stoneburner would meet us as we climbed the long stairway to the front door. She didn’t try to scare us and she didn’t drop a piece of candy in our bag and send us back down the stairs. We were invited in. Inside they had all the furniture pushed aside and the centerpiece of the room was their dining table. It was loaded down with bowls of candy, cakes, pies, drinks, popcorn balls, and apples. It was paradise! We could have any and all we wanted, but I don’t think we ever put much in our bags. Most of it was eaten right there. Mom and dad would sit down in a dining chair along the wall and catch up with Mr. & Mrs. Stoneburner. Mr. Stoneburner had a shop out back where he made and repaired clocks. Their living room was filled with them. When the hour struck, the whole room would go off, but not at the same time. They had them timed out and it went on for several minutes. It was almost cooler than the table full of treats. The Stoneburners would get so excited whenever someone would arrive. They loved seeing how we changed over the years and they talked to each and every one of us. Their house was the highlight of Halloween each year and it was usually the last stop before home.

When we got home, we would each dump out our loot onto the floor and compare what each other got. Sometimes we would trade, but mostly we would hoard all that we had. Mom went through our candy, making sure that there were no razor blade or needle marks in it. I don’t know how that urban legend ever began without the internet, but we all heard about the kid that bit into an apple that had razor blades in it. I remember mom making us put our candy in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and we would only be allowed so much each night. I also remember hiding some under our beds. One year I found candy near Christmas.

We never had trick-or-trunk, never went to the mall, and never went to a party for Halloween when we were kids. Trick-or-Treating meant that we walked the streets, knocked on doors and when they answered we sang “Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat, If you don’t, I don’t care, I’ll pull down your underwear!” Sometimes we got an evil eye from a church lady or two and we stopped half way through. Nobody wanted to sing about their underwear anyways.

As we got older, we did end up at the church on Halloween. Our parents became youth counselors and the initiation into our youth group each year was to go through a haunted house. We would meet in the basement of the church, in the social hall. It would be a small party with some Halloween music and candy. The older members of our youth group would set up the haunted house in the kitchen. It had doors at both ends, so they could take you in one side and out the other. All the new kids from that year had to go through initiation to officially join the youth group. You would be blindfolded and led through by hand. Your lead would take you from station to station and you had to put your hands in stuff, eat or drink something, and things would get tossed on you as you passed through. You would scream and try to run because they would make you feel a bucket full of eyeballs, or eat worms, and bats would fly into your head. But you had to make it all the way through, or you would not get in and had to do it again next year. If you did make it through, you were sworn to secrecy and could not tell anyone what happened to you in there.

Once you made it through, you could join the rest of the party. We would even end the night with a taffy pull. The taffy we made we would sell to the church members and that raised money for our group. If you made it all the way through the haunted initiation, you got to help the next year. You might be a guide or you could be at one of the stations of eyeballs or worms. That was, even more, fun than going through initiation. You really got the chance to pull one over on the new guys. You found out that the eyeballs were just grapes in a bowl full of jelly and the worms were just macaroni in cold pasta sauce.

Halloween has always been right up there with Christmas. And, I think no matter how old you get, you can enjoy both with the excitement and awe you had as a kid.

And a tall glass of cold milk

I mentioned last time our neighbor, Anne, who came over to sit with mom a couple of evenings a week. Mostly they just drank coffee and smoked cigarettes while they talked about work and other neighbors. They would say the same things over and over sometimes. I often wondered if they were so bored sitting there that they didn’t even listen to themselves, much less the other one.
Anyway, every once in a while they would make a batch of No Bake Cookies. We loved those growing up. I don’t know when the recipe ever came about, but when they made them, it was like they had just invented sunshine that you could eat.

Anne would bring over her own cookie sheets, so she could take her part of the batch home. Line with aluminum foil, she would lay them on top of the freezer, and she and mom would sit and drink at least one cup of coffee and smoke a couple of cigarettes before they would get started. Mom had a huge pot that they would make them in and when it was time to add the oatmeal, one or two of us would be allowed to stir for a minute. Mom would lay her cookie sheets out and line them with foil. We wanted to help with those too, anything to speed up this agonizingly slow process.

Start out with 1 stick of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of milk and 6 tablespoons of cocoa. Bring that to a boil, stirring constantly to blend. Boil 1 minute.
Remove from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 cup of creamy peanut butter. Stir until well blended. Then add oatmeal. I never measure the oatmeal. I just keep adding and stirring until it seems right. You want it firm enough to hold onto the spoon.

They would scoop the cookies out onto the pans and then line the pans up again across the top of the huge chest freezer in the kitchen. Then they would clean up and sit down for more coffee and a few more smokes. This was another clear-cut case of child abuse. How were we supposed to wait for these darn things to harden? They took forever. You could bake cookies and let them cool enough to eat in the time it took these to “set up” as mom would say. “Can we have one?” “They’re not set up yet, no.” We knew mom could be mean, but this was just beyond comprehension. And, Anne was in on the cruelty. But then again, she had a girl and no boys, so maybe she didn’t really like us all that much and the torture was gratifying for her.

Drop them by spoonfuls onto a lined pan and let them “set up”! I still cannot wait that long for them, so I usually put them in the fridge to speed it up. One of the best parts of making them now is that no one else gets to lick the spoon but me!

When we could finally have one, we would shove a whole cookie in our mouth and reach for another. All that chocolate and peanut butter and dense chewy oats called for a tall glass of cold milk! That is, if my oldest brother, Ricky, hadn’t drunk it all by then. Mom would buy one gallon of milk a week and when it was gone, it was gone. You would always find him with the jug in the air, guzzling it straight. When we got older, he used to buy his own that the rest of us could not touch.

I don’t think we ever had these cookies at Christmas or any special occasion. These were simply cookies to have, for no reason at all. Every now and then we would have them at school, on our food tray. Say what you will about school cafeteria food, but those were the best too.

Even today, I don’t make No Bake Cookies for Christmas. I make them because we want some. I make them to take on a trip. I make them because I am bored and hungry. I don’t really have to have a reason. This evening, I needed to write this post and I decided I needed pictures  for it. I also need a tall glass of cold milk.

Sometimes you never really grow up.

Food for thoughts

This past week the weather has turned cooler. We’ve opened the windows and aired out the house. At night we throw an extra blanket on as the temperature drops into the 40’s and 50’s. The leaves are just beginning to change, and you instantly begin thinking about comfort foods. There is a meaning in that term. It’s comforting because the tastes and smells remind us of better days when someone took care of us by feeding our bellies and our souls. I decided to make today a comfort food day.

This morning, after my requisite double capacity coffee cup was filled, I fixed a late breakfast. I guess you could call it brunch since it filled us up for most of the day. I decided to make a batch of biscuits from scratch. I cook quite a bit, as you know by now, so you would think that I could turn out a pan of biscuits in a minute. Biscuits are not something that I grew up on, though. Mom probably popped open a can or two, but I don’t ever remember her making biscuits from scratch. I don’t even remember my grandmother doing it. I know that may take a couple of punches out of my southern boy card, but that’s the truth.

I did make a batch a couple of times myself growing up. I remember the first time I made them one of our neighbors was over. Anne came over a couple of nights a week to sit with mom, smoke a few dozen cigarettes and drink coffee. She was a good cook, but a nosey neighbor. I may have to write more about her sometime! A few of you probably know her, or are related to her, so I will be nice. She and mom were close and she took care of me many times. I will always thank her for that. Anyway, she tried my biscuits and told me what I did right and what I needed to do the next time. Cold Crisco was essential or your biscuits were just greasy.

But this morning I decided to use a little different method, one that I had seen online. I took a stick of frozen butter and grated it on the old knuckle buster. Then I put it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes to harden back up. Once I had my flour ready, I mixed the two and finished with the pastry cutter. The two have to come together to look like meal. Then I added in my buttermilk and stirred it until it formed a ball. On a floured surface I rolled it out, folded it once and repeated three more times. Then I just grabbed a glass to cut the biscuits. I don’t have a cutter, so a glass works pretty well. Into the oven at 450* they go until they are starting to brown on top. I take them out and immediately rub the tops with butter and they turn nice and golden. I was pretty happy with this batch. It wasn’t much harder than popping a can.

Mom’s rolling pin adds all the comfort I need.

While they were in the oven I fried up a huge slice of city ham and a few eggs. A little apple pie jelly that I made last year tasted so good on those biscuits. There’s enough ham and biscuits left to have a quick breakfast for the next couple of mornings. The comfort in making these this morning for me was using mom’s rolling pin. It is a simple wooden roller with faded red handles. It seemed so big when I was little, but it’s not that big today. However, it does a great job and I plan on passing it down to someone in the family one day. The only thing I recall mom using it for was to roll out sugar cookies each year. I think that’s another Tale. The title will have to be The Camel Had No Legs. My brothers will appreciate that one.

This evening I made a pot of Chicken and Dumplins. I know it’s dumplings, but I can’t help it. Again, not something that I grew up on, but I’ve learned to make. I’ve made all kinds of dumplins, from drop to rolled to dill to butter. I’ve settled on plain rolled. I make my own stock by beginning with boiling a whole chicken. A chicken for every pot I think is the way to go for the country and the way to go for the best pot of chicken and dumplins you’ve ever had. I cover it with water, salt it just a bit and let it boil for an hour or more. I check it and when the legs are about to fall off, it is done. I pull it out of the water, which is now stock, very carefully and put it in a roasting pan. I want to have room to work with it as I begin to pull it apart. I let it cool a bit and get the vegetables ready. I usually throw in what carrots I have and a little bit of onion. If I have any celery, I will put a little in, but not much. Then I pull off the skin and pull the meat off the bone. When I am done I have a cutting board full of chicken, white and dark meat, to put back in when the vegetables are done.

I set that aside and begin the dumplins. They are pretty much like biscuits, but of course, are rolled out very thin. I get water up to a boil again, add the chicken back in and cut the dough into tiny squares. I generously dust them with flour before putting them in the pot. As they begin to puff up, the flour helps thicken the stock. If it’s not thickening, I add a little flour to some milk and add it to the pot.

Now over the years, I’ve made some really good pots of chicken and dumplins and some have not turned out so good. The first time I made a pot for Mick, I had a pan full of cubed chicken from a meal that we had that day at work. There was so much chicken left over that a couple of us divided it. I was excited to be able to make a pot so quickly when I got home. All I had to do was open some chicken stock and make the dumplins. I made a huge pot too. That time I made big ole drop dumplins, about the size of a baseball when the puffed up. I put a dumplin on a plate for each of us, split it open and poured lots of the chicken and gravy over them. Mick took a bite and didn’t say a word. I sat down and took my first bite and could not swallow it. It was horrible, but he was being so nice. I didn’t realize that the chicken had been smoked for chicken bbq sandwiches that we had at work. Mick tried to eat a little more, but I threw it all out. It was disgusting. He has since been a bit more vocal about what I fix, and it took a while before I tried chicken and dumplins again. He ate a bowl full this evening and there’s enough for a couple of more meals.

Probably the ultimate comfort food.

The comfort in chicken and dumplins has to be that it was one of the first one pot meals that I fixed after buying my first house. It was that old 1855 farmhouse and it just seemed that this was something I needed to learn to make in my own kitchen.

A old Tale of New Tails

I know it’s been a while since I have posted. Things here at home have been a bit busy, and it’s all my fault. Nearly a month ago, I was at work early one morning. As I passed by some stairs, next to our offices, I heard a familiar sound. This was just after daybreak. I stopped to listen closely, but all I could hear were birds chirping. I began to move on when I heard it again. So I stop once again. I look around, but I can’t find anything and I have no idea where the sound is coming from. Someone walks by and gives me a puzzled look. I don’t know what their problem was. Had they never seen anyone searching for a kitten before? When they walked away I heard it again. I knew it was not all in my head, so I decided to begin meowing to see if it meowed back. That seemed pretty logical to me. “Meowwwww” meeeee “Meeeoowwwwwwwww” meeeee “MEEEEOOOOWWWWW” Got it!

Sure enough, beneath the stairs and between some pots that our gardener stores there, was the tiniest gray stripped kitten I had ever seen. I carried it out and into the sunlight. It was shivering and crying. It held close to me, I think to keep warm. Another co-worker walked by, saw what I had and turned around. He came back a minute later with a little dish of milk. I put the kitten down at the milk and it had no idea what to do, so I dipped it’s face in the bowl. After it’s initial shock, it took to drinking milk from a bowl pretty quickly. Now, what?

I carried it back to my office and found a big box. I put the kitten and what milk was left in the box and then headed to my car to find some towels or something. Sure enough, I had a couple of old towels in the back and made it a bed. I was at work so early because we were having a festival and I was setting up. It was Heritage Day. I had lots to do, and taking care of another life was not on my agenda.

I figured I better see if it was a boy or a girl. Sometimes it is so hard to tell when they are so small. He is not so small. Now I figure I have to call him something besides the kitten. I think Heri is a suitable name.  I found him on Heritage Day. Done. Wait, I can’t name him. If I do, I’ll have to keep him. Another co-worker walks in and sees the kitten. She asks me what its name is. I say “Heri”. Oh no.

I leave him in the box in my office and get back to work. I have a good 12 hours ahead of me. I keep checking on him throughout the day and so does everyone else. I ask everyone I see if they would like a kitten, but as cute as he was, there were no takers. As the day wears on and I check on him more and more, he begins to recognize me. He actually calms down when he sees me. I am done for. I had been telling Mick all day what was going on and he kept telling me to find him a good home. I always do as instructed.

I get home with him about 7pm that evening, just dead on my feet. Mick takes charge of the little guy and within five minutes, he is asleep in his lap. We discuss taking a vacation day to take him to the vet and get him checked out. I set up a kennel for him, make a litter box and he has a secure place to sleep for the night, away from the dogs. The other cats were probably more concerned about his invasion than the dogs were.

That look says it all. I’ve gone too far. Oh well, Welcome Home Heri Potter.

After I eat and get cleaned up, we begin talking about his name. Mick does not care for Heri very much. He thinks that is a weird name for a cat. I told him of my logic, being that it was Heri-tage day. He’s not convinced. So he begins searching lists of cats names. I don’t like anything he’s calling out. Then he says “Potter”. “You did find him at the Pottery House at work.” I ask, how about “Heri Potter”? Mick laughs. He says the name out loud in his best British accent, which was the worst you’ve ever heard. I thought it was perfect. I found him on Heritage Day, in the space beneath the stairs, next to the Potter’s House.

They vet thought he was about 5-6 weeks old, and he said he was in perfect health. He was such a sweet kitten a couple of weeks ago. He is now in his terrible two months stage. I don’t know if any of us will survive. He has absolutely no fear but is full of wanderlust. He is amazing.

He looks so peaceful. Terror awakens soon.

Curiosity fuels this thing.

We already had three cats and four dogs. We believe in adopting from shelters or keeping animals out of shelters. Both of us grew up with animals and we will always have something running around the house.

Our vet growing up was Doc Truban. His office I think was part of his house. You drove past a couple of big bushes and down the driveway, to a small parking space in the front. Up the stairs and through the front door. Inside there was a dutch-door window straight ahead, waiting room to the left and exam room to the right. You checked in and went to one of the chairs in the waiting room. The walls were paneled, lamps lit the room and there were just a few things on the walls.

That exam room saw every dog and cat we ever had. Injuries from accidents. Puppies that could not be born. Our last dog that suffered from kidney failure. They all went there. Many years later, one of his sons took over the office and built a new building a little ways down the road.

Doc was not just our vet. He was also our State Senator for about 20 years, I think. But in the office, he was just Doc Truban. He was a good gentle vet, that was practical about the care needed. I’ve probably used vets over the years that I have liked more, but I don’t know that I have ever trusted one more than Doc. Everybody knew him and everybody trusted him to care for their animals.

Mom’s old New Cook Book

Most people have a favorite recipe, or several, that they consider an old family specialty. Our mom was not one of those moms that passed on old family recipes. I think I’ve mentioned that she didn’t cook much, but she was a good cook. She really didn’t have the time much to cook. She worked full time and raised the four of us. We had standard meals that we would eat each week. For example, we always knew that Monday was spaghetti night. I think that’s how you get through sometimes. A routine is a means of survival. We didn’t mind. Once, dad fixed dinner on a Monday night and it was not spaghetti. He heard about it from all of us for years after that.

Sunday dinner was usually the most adventurous meal of the week. I know there were roasts and chicken dishes, but I don’t remember them. What I do remember was her meatloaf. She only had one cookbook to speak of, and I have it today. I had a collection of cookbooks at one time, but it has always been the jewel in the cookbook crown. A Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book with a red and white plaid cover, printed in 1968. She didn’t use it much but recall the Fluffy White Icing page being dog-eared. Her meatloaf was not from a cookbook or recipe, though. It was simply from memory. She never even wrote it down, so we didn’t have something to pass on.

Worn and stained from 49 years of use. It’s still mom’s New Cook Book.

She always used the biggest blue and white pyrex mixing bowl from her set. When we emptied out the house, that was one of the few things that I wanted to keep, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. At some point, dad must have given it away or let someone borrow the set. There were four nesting mixing bowls in blue and white, with a pattern of farmers and their wives on them. I have a set today that I found at an antique store. It’s missing one of the bowls, but I don’t mind. I was driving by an antique store a few months after my dad had passed, and out of the blue, I decided to stop. I had passed it many times, but I had never been in it. I walked in and the first booth I entered had the set of bowls. I picked them up and took them straight to the counter. They were asking $50 for the set of 3. I didn’t have any money, but I didn’t squabble about the price. Things were tight. I didn’t care. I wanted the bowls, so I pulled out a credit card. I got home and cleaned them up. Set them on the counter and just looked at them. I was excited to have a set just like moms. Not even an hour later I got a phone call from the executor of dad’s estate. He called me to let me know that he and my brothers had talked and they were going to go ahead and disperse part of the inheritance. I paid the credit card off when the bill came in. Mom made sure I got a set of mixing bowls. The rest of the estate was settled after the house was sold and the appropriate time had passed. The first thing I made in my new old set of bowls was mom’s meatloaf.

Each bowl has the farmers with the wheat pattern and they alternate blue and white backgrounds as they nest down. These may not be mom’s, but they feel like it and that’s good enough for memories.

I learned how to make it from just watching her, which is the best way to pass a recipe down. She never measured anything for it. She just knew how much to put in. That’s when you know something is going to be good. It’s tried and true. Sometimes she would let me mix it all up. You had to get your hands in there and squish the meat, ketchup, oats, and eggs through your fingers. It would be so cold that you had to keep the hot water running so you could warm your hands up and then dig back in for another minute. She told me a few times about our great grandmother’s (on dad’s side) meatloaf. Mom was never sure how she did it, or even why she did it, but she had an egg in the center of her meatloaf. She would cut it and there was a hardboiled egg in the middle. Thanks to the internet and Food Network, I’ve been able to look that up. It’s something that has been done for a very long time, and it’s making a comeback. You make your meatloaf and put half in the bottom of the pan. Then you line two to four hard boiled eggs up and cover them with the remaining amount of meatloaf. Then you bake it. Most of what I read said it was a German or Jewish recipe. We are neither that I know of, but I am sure great grandmaw Edge learned that somewhere. Mom never tried it, but I am tempted to sometime.

I made a meatloaf tonight for Mick to take to his parents tomorrow. His mom needs to stay off her feet for a few days, so we wanted to make sure she didn’t try to get in the kitchen to cook, and we want to make sure they have something to last them several days. I was talking to her a few weeks ago and she was telling me how she makes her meatloaf. I make mine the exact same way. I follow what my mom did, but I started adding a little bbq sauce a couple of years back, which is what she does as well. Neither of them followed a recipe. Their hands just know.

Here is my mom’s recipe for Meatloaf:
2-3 pounds of ground beef
1/2 onion chopped
ketchup
mustard
Worcestershire sauce
oatmeal
1 egg
a splash of milk
salt
pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well with your hands. Sometimes she would use a small can of tomato paste instead of ketchup. Transfer to a baking dish and pat the meatloaf down into a solid loaf. Cover and bake at 325 degrees until done. Uncover and top with more ketchup and return to the oven for 5 minutes longer to brown.
Like I said, I add a little bbq sauce to mine now. The amounts of ketchup, mustard, oats, and such are just to feel. I honestly have no idea how much I put in. When it looks and feels right, I know it.

Get all of your ingredients together and just mix it until it holds together and feels right. Too soft and it will not hold up, too dry and it will fall apart. I need to make this with some of my nieces and nephews. I don’t know if my brothers make mom’s meatloaf, so we need to pass on the recipe.
Now there’s a loaf!
Just top it off with ketchup and back in the oven for 5 minutes more!

When I make it with the hard-boiled eggs in the middle, I’ll put up a quick post. I don’t remember much about my great-grandparents, so I need to connect a little to them. I just know they came down from Pennsylvania and settled in Buckhannon, WV for the rest of their lives and raised a family. And, they ate meatloaf with a hard boiled egg in it, or so I was told.

The Waterpark is closed…For no more renovations

I know it’s been a few weeks since I last posted, but it has been just a little crazy around the house. I told you about the beginnings of our bathroom renovations, and I think we were into day number four. Well, we went well into week number three before it was all done. There were no major issues, thankfully. But, our contractor was not as familiar with the work as we had hoped he would be.

The plumbers were in and out and did a great job. Next, the shower walls went up. By next, I mean five days later. There was some prep work to be done, in all fairness, such as drywall. I remember my dad helping with many renovations through the church when we were growing up and he got to help with the drywall installation, mudding, and sanding. If you can avoid it, do so at all costs. I don’t think all the dust has settled yet.

We decided to help speed things up (and hopefully recover some on the budget) by doing some of the painting ourselves, so we made sure to get that done overnight for them. When the tile went down, the toilet came up, so we had to relocate to a hotel for a couple of nights. I said I would take a bath in a bucket, but I was not about to do anything else in a bucket. I do have my limits. While the toilet was out, it sat on the porch. I did not. After the tile dried and the grout went in, the toilet returned to its rightful and private location. Luckily that happened on a Friday, so we were able to come home for the weekend.

That just happened to be a busy weekend at work for me too, as we had an event that I had to be at. It was a short 16 hour day. Sunday morning we were at Lowe’s when they opened, with a list of supplies we needed. We had to get things back on track and get our bathroom back. We had opted for beadboard, which the contractor put up on Friday as well, but I told him what type of molding I was thinking of to finish it. It was obvious that it would be into the next week before that would happen. So baseboard and chair rail molding were on our list. We picked up a few other supplies and headed back home. As I unloaded the building of all my power tools , Mick began painting all the trim, then I measured what I needed and began cutting and installing it. The day flew by, and a few storms blew in, but we got all the trim in, with the exception of a couple of small sections. Then we hung the mirror, changed out the door knob, set the vanity, caulked and touched up the paint on all the trim. We figured we saved about 3 days worth of work. The next day when Scott arrived to begin working, he was a bit shocked at the work we had gotten done. He almost offered me a job as a finish carpenter and said he would pay me $40 an hour. Now we knew what we had just saved on the budget too.

That did speed things up quite a bit and they were done the next day. We finished up with the small details of hanging the towel bars and medicine cabinet. Our work lasted a few more evenings. In the end, we are extremely happy with how it turned out.

It did remind me of renovations that we did at home in the late 80’s. My parents put in all new windows, a new roof, siding, and remodeled the bathroom and kitchen. This process began in late summer with ordering the windows and getting the roof replaced and siding put on. The windows did not arrive until the week of Thanksgiving. Mom was excited to have all new windows that would tilt in and easily slide up and down, and best of all they were insulated. All the windows were installed except the big picture window in the living room. The took the old window out and tossed it into the dumpster and when they dry fitted the new one, it did not fit. It had been made wrong and would have to be remade, asap. The best they could do was board up a 6-foot x 6-foot hole in the living room wall. Mom was less than not happy. They did manage to get a window built withing a few days into the next week and installed it. We put up the Christmas tree right away. It had become a tradition for us to come home from Grandmaw Barton’s and put up the tree on Thanksgiving day. That year it was a little bit delayed.

Now they had to finish the bathroom and kitchen renovations. I don’t remember too many issues, but I do remember a new toilet sitting in the living room for several days, right next to the Christmas tree. Along with all the new appliances, my parents had recently had a new water softener installed in the kitchen closet. One night, mom and I were wallpapering the kitchen and about 2am that damn thing kicked on. We thought someone was outside the backdoor doing something and the only weapons we had handy were a wallpaper brush and a utility knife. The only good thing about it coming on was that it woke us up a bit and we were able to finish the job.

Our Christmas toilet. My cat, CeCe was fascinated by this thing being in the living room. Notice the boxes of Christmas lights next to it.

Home renovations are not fun. I have never heard anyone exclaim how much they love them, but I have to say that mom and I did have fun wallpapering that night, and Mick and I did have a good time working on the bathroom trim. There is a sense of accomplishment that you feel when you work with your hands to feather your nest. Even the flaws become endearing reminders of giving it your best.

Well, here are a few pictures of the “after” of our bathroom. Next, the kitchen.

MacBeth and the other cats have all figured out that they can crawl under the sink base. Now they have a new place to hide.

A Hillbilly Waterpark

This week we’ve begun a remodeling project. We weren’t planning on it just yet, but our tub had other plans. A few months back we noticed a crack in it, so it did not matter if we were prepared for a remodel or not, we, or rather it, decided it was time.

We called our contractor. Yes, we happen to have one. When you have a house that was built in 1930, you tend to keep one on speed dial. So my husband called Scott and warned him that we were going to need his help. This was a project that was beyond our abilities and, quite honestly, beyond our desire for manual labor. We can handle installing a new sink or tiling a floor, but we figured we better call in reinforcements.

We knew we wanted to do away with the tub and just go with a nice walk in shower. It took us a while, but we found exactly what we wanted. Panels that would go all the way to the ceiling, a cast iron pan and tall barn style glass shower doors. The shower pan will come out a couple of inches more than the original tub did, so then we had to look for new flooring. We have already returned the first tiles we bought and are sure we will be happy with the porcelain tiles he is about to install. If we are going to put in a new floor, we might as well replace the vanity. I have been wanting a raised vanity for years. We picked up a great solid wood and marble top one. The walls are nice, but since they have to tear out the tub and shower, the drywall will come down, so we like the idea of adding some beadboard. You can see where this is going. The only thing we are keeping is the toilet. It’s only a couple of years old, so hopefully all goes well moving it out and in.

It took the shower walls and pan a few months to come in, so our contractor finished up some other jobs and just got started this week. We figured it will take about 3 days and we would be able to shower again. We only have one bathroom. They do this kind of stuff on HGTV all the time. It doesn’t seem that hard.

In an afternoon, the bathroom was gutted! Whew, that was quick. Out with the old and in with the new. We could tell that this was not the original location of the bathroom. As I said, the house was originally built in 1930. There was a major remodel about 20 years ago before Mick bought it. You could see the original dark wood and newer framing. It’s amazing to how big a bathroom looks without anything in it.

Scott has been great about keeping water going for us. We have a toilet still and water in the kitchen. This adventure began 4 days ago. We thought about going to a hotel here in town until it was done, but we are comfortable here at home. We just need a good shower soon. To keep from running each other out of the house, we have been taking whore baths in the kitchen sink. I have a bathing mantra that my mother passed on to me from her mother. When taking a bath: wash down as far as possible, then wash up as far as possible, and by all means – don’t forget possible! That’s right, I don’t remember my mother ever telling me I had to wash behind my ears or anything silly like that.

A couple of nights, Mick has cleaned up in a wash tub we bought to give the dogs a bath in. I call it his Hillbilly Waterpark. We live right in the middle of town, but he has managed a little privacy on the screen porch. Last night, though, a car pulled into the driveway, just as he entered the waterpark. It seemed they were just turning around, but their headlights almost caught a full moon!
It reminded me of Ray Steven’s “The Streak” from the 70’s. Don’t Look ETHEL!!

The Hillbilly Waterpark

We hope the bathroom will be done in the next week. While we have Scott here, we thought we would have him knock out a short list of other projects too. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go. The sun is setting and the moon is about to shine. I have to go heat up some water, the waterpark will be opening shortly.

The Bread ( and Butter) of Life

I’ve teased you a couple of times about giving you my recipe for my Bread and Butter Pickles. I just made a couple of batches over the last couple of weekends. They will be ready to eat by next weekend.  Having to let them sit for a couple of weeks and get their pickle on is almost unbearable.

The weekend I was going to make my first batch of this year, a friend of ours was coming over to spend the day. Dee got here early and we piddled around a bit with some things and decided we would all go out for lunch. Before we left, Dee said she had been meaning to tell me about a patient of hers. She is a home health care nurse and travels to homebound patients to bathe them, make sure they are doing ok, feeds them and moves on to the next. Of course, she never talks about her patients, never says who they are. But, she wanted to tell me that she had a 93-year-old woman that had pretty much quit eating. Dee said, however, she was wanting some bread and butter pickles. That night when she got home, she looked in her pantry and found the last jar she had from a batch I made last year. So the next day, she brings her a jar of my pickles. She said that little old woman ate nearly the whole jar. She was sure she wasn’t going to make it before she got back, but she thought the pickles gave her a boost and she did well for the next couple of days. I almost broke down. I love making them and giving them away. You just never know what a simple gesture can do for someone else. I immediately went to our pantry and found the last 2 jars that I had and gave them to her. Dee said that she is still holding on.

So, after composing myself and filling Dee’s car with pickles, we all headed out. We made it to lunch, stopped by an Amish store to get spices and supplies for the pickles, and then decided that since it was such a nice day, we would go for a drive into North Carolina. We wanted to find Shelton Laurel, where my mother-in-law grew up. We weren’t far anyway, so through the mountains, we headed. Shelton Laurel, NC sounds like such a beautiful, pastoral place and it is. But, it’s got a very disturbing past that spills over into its present. We didn’t stop, we just drove through, seeing what we could. We are planning on going back to see if we can find a couple of landmarks that mom has talked about. We would take her, but she would not do well in the car for the couple of hours it would take there and back. I will write about that adventure when we do it.

On the way back we ended up stopping at mom and dads. She told us a few more stories about growing up. I think I could start a blog just with her stories alone and I may do that. It’s a story that needs to be told. Before we left, we all ended up in the garden. It’s what we do when we go there. Kind of like going to Cracker Barrel, you have to exit through the gift shop. With bags more of fresh produce, we head back home. We’ve decided by now that it’s too late to start any pickles. It takes hours, so we plan on starting early the next morning.

Dee comes back on Sunday to help me get started. We clean up the cucumbers and onions and begin slicing both. I like to cut all of it by hand. I could use the food processor, but I can do it just as quickly with a knife, and I like the pickles to be a little chunky. Then we salt them down and pack them with ice on top. Now we wait for 3 hours. This is just enough time to go get some more lunch. We can’t venture too far this time, though. We get back in time to clean the jars and get them sterilized. We fill up the canner with water and set it to boil, and prepare the lids and rings. When the 3 hours is up. we remove any remaining ice and then rinse the cucumbers and onions several times. Now I add the sugar, vinegar, pickling spices, and turmeric. It has to come to a boil for 5 minutes. Now I begin to spoon the pickles into the jars, packing them pretty tight, fill them up with the remaining brine and clean the rims of the jars. The pickling juice is very sticky and gets everywhere sometimes. If there is any on the rim of the jar, it most likely will not seal. Now I add the lids and rings and lower them into the boiling water and process them for 10 minutes. Once they come out, I place them on a towel on the counter and wait for the tink, tink, tink of the lids sealing. Every time I hear one, I yell “Sounds like pickles!”

The next weekend we head up to the in-laws. Mom hurt her leg pretty bad and we wanted to check on her. Her skin has gotten so thin that it does not take much to break it open. She did quite a number on her leg, but said she was ok now and we watched as she re-dressed the wound. It looked pretty bad, but she was doing a good job of taking care of it. She did say that earlier in the week she got pretty upset and began “squawling”. Not because her leg hurt, but because she was worried that she would not be able to get in the garden. She worries about that garden. She loves getting in there early in the day and seeing what has bloomed, ripened, is ready to pick, and to pull any pesky weeds. She would not know what to do with herself if she did not have that garden each spring and summer. Dad told her to just go on up there and do what she felt she could and she would be ok. She did and she was. We left with more cucumbers and I made more Bread and Butter Pickles. I will give them several jars. We give lots of it back or use what we put up for dinners when the family comes over.

So even though they are just pickles, just cucumbers that soak up some vinegar, they mean so much more. Growing the cucumbers gives mom a purpose and she loves to be able to do for us. That’s what moms do. Making them connects me to my past. I think of Mary each and every time. Even when I am wiping the rim of the jar and look at the paper towel to see if there is any trace of color from the turmeric left when I wipe it clean. I pass the pickles on to family, friends, and co-workers. It’s creating a community. Sharing with Dee, and now with you, how I make them passes on what Mary taught me. Hopefully one day, someone will be writing a post about their pickles, that they learned to make because of what I wrote. I hope they make them their own as well. Mary had her process and I have made it my own. Then there are stories like what Dee told me of someone who could have been Mary’s daughter. Nearing the end of her life, but wanting to taste something that reminds her of when she was a young girl. If someone asked me what I wanted for one of my last meals, what would I ask for? Pickles do make me happy. I think it’s a good choice.

Ok, here you go. Here is the recipe for my Bread and Butter Pickles. May they bring you the memories, joy and sometimes tears, that they have brought me.

Jimmy’s Bread & Butter Pickles
Makes 8-9 pints

For the pickles, you will need:
4 quarts of sliced cucumbers (that’s a colander heaping of clean cucumbers, ready to slice)
6 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup non-iodized salt
Plenty of ice

Layer the cucumber and onion slices in a large pan (I use my old enamel roasting pan, but do not use an aluminum pan) Sprinkle with the salt all over and cover the entire batch with a thick layer of ice. Cover and let set for 3 hours.

For the brine, you will need:
4 cups of sugar
3 cups of white vinegar
2 teaspoons of turmeric
2 teaspoons of celery seed
2 tablespoons of mustard seed
2 tablespoons of “pickling spice” – this usually contains peppercorns, allspice, mustard seeds, etc.

Remove all of the remaining ice and drain. Then rinse the cucumbers and onions very well a couple of times and drain. Add all of the brine ingredients to the cucumbers and onions, and bring to a boil. (some people like to put all of the spices into cheesecloth and make a sachet that they discard. I like to just put all of the spices in with the pickles. They don’t hurt anything and I think they look great in the jar. I also love how the mustard seeds “pop” when you bite into them. It is up to you. Just don’t give me a jar without the spices.) Cook for 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Have your lids processing in a small pot of boiling water. Have a large pot of boiling water ready to put your filled jars in. Fill each jar with pickles and then top off with brine, leaving 1-inch headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars. Put on the lids and rings. Tighten by hand until just tight. Process in boiling water, with jars covered by at least 1 inch of water, for 10 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and set aside to cool. Lids should “tink” when they seal. Any that do not seal can be reprocessed. Let pickles sit in a cool place for at least 2 weeks before opening and serving. Refrigerate after opening.

A Tale of Independance

Happy 4th Of July! Happy Independence Day! It does not seem that long ago that we were all celebrating the Bi-Centennial. That’s probably the one time I remember being at the fairgrounds on the 4th. We were in the grandstand for some type of concert and I remember getting a 76′ flag. Most years we went to Freddie and Vickie’s house, just a little bit away from the fairgrounds. Lots of people from the church would gather there and have a huge picnic and watch the fireworks.

There were several years that we went to our grandparents for the 4th. Both of our parents worked at the Aileen Clothing factory and the plant would shut down for two weeks around the 4th. As I had said before, most of our vacations were spent visiting them wherever they lived. Granddaddy and grandmas Edge liked to take us on picnics. There was one picnic that I recall we got on paddle boats and spent the day on the water. Grandmaw wore a green plaid dress, which she probably made herself, and carried their red and black plaid metal picnic basket. I don’t know why I remember that, but I think there are pictures somewhere of her.

Picnic area at Seneca Rock

We also visited Seneca Rock once and had a picnic in the park below the rocks. Seneca Rock was not far from Buchannon, WV where our great grandparents lived. Seneca Rock, I thought was so cool. Granddaddy told us about the myth of how the rock was formed. I could not possibly recall the story today, and Granddaddy, I am sure, read it to us right from the visitor sign, but here it is.

     “Princess Snow Bird, who had grown to maidenhood in the shadow of the rocks and scaled their      heights many times, proposed a contest to her father, [Chief] Bald Eagle. She would climb to the crest of the rocks as prospective suitors followed. The first to take her hand would become her mate. Bald Eagle agreed, and at the end of the climb, of seven suitors, only one remained, the others having turned back from fear or fallen to their deaths. From their lofty perch, Snow Bird and her future mate surveyed the surrounding realm of the Seneca that would be theirs to rule one day.”

Seneca Rock as it appears today. One of the main rocks in the formation fell several years ago.
How it appeared when we visited in the 70’s.

When we were kids, the 4th simply meant that the county put off fireworks, or if we visited our grandparents, granddaddy would take us somewhere to watch them. He never liked to take us right into the action of anything, so it would have been close by. We may have gotten some sparklers or a few firecrackers, but that was it for our own personal celebration. It was nothing like the war zone we live in today on the 4th. 

I hope it was happy, I hope it was safe. 

A Father’s Tale

Dad’s been gone for a little over 6 years now. It hardly seems possible. He grew up all over Virginia, but mostly the Shenandoah Valley. Dad was the son of a preacher man, which sort of made them a family of drifters. He was the oldest of five children; three boys and two girls. One of his sisters, Polly, died as an infant. That was pretty traumatic for the family, as it would be for any family. A traveling doctor came through, as I remember it told, and gave my dad, Uncle Jim and Polly each a shot for the flu or something like that. Polly did not do well with the shot and was quickly gone. Dad and Uncle Jim were later joined by Aunt Alice and Uncle David. I remember seeing a picture of Aunt Polly. They took it after she died, realizing that they did not have a picture of her at all and they had no choice.

I think granddaddy studied to become a minister in the Methodist Church in Washington, DC, so they lived  there for a few years. I believe they had other family there at the time too. I remember Aunt Alice talking about some relatives in that area. I also remember Granddaddy saying that he was walking down the street in DC one day and along came President Harry S. Truman. I kinda thought he was just making up tales, but he was a preacher, so he could not lie! As a kid, I didn’t know that Truman was known as The Incredible Walking President. I later did a report in school on President Truman and realized that Granddaddy may be the only person I know that has met a United States President. Who knows, I may change that one day.

I think dad was too small to have known if he had seen the President, and most of his childhood was spent in the Shenandoah Valley. When they lived in Winchester he attended James Wood High School and he met a girl there named Barbara Barton. On Christmas Eve, he proposed and in June of 1963 they were married. Dad and mom both were born into the era of WWII and married in the era of Camelot. It was a promising time and a scary time too. The threat of nuclear was imminent and President Kennedy was killed not long after they were married. It had to be tough having that much life ahead of you and the realization that it could all end in a flash, literally. 
Dad worked very hard to provide for his growing family. He worked two jobs most of his life. One of his jobs was at the Virginian Truck Stop. It was a great family owned and operated business. Even though it was a truck stop, it was a family stop too. Lots of people ate there on Sunday after church. My very first job was there as well. Everyone knew me as Harry’s boy and the owners took care of me like I was their own. Which meant that if I screwed up, they had permission to straighten me out. I remember them wanting to make sure that my grades were always good and they even gave me rides home if my parents could not. The old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” was true in my case. They also had kids my age in school, so they knew what it was like to keep the family going.
Our dad was also a volunteer most of his life. He began volunteering for the fire department as a teenager. The fire hall became his second home. If he wasn’t at home, we always knew where to find him. He and mom also volunteered at church a lot and were our youth leaders for many years. They both believed in giving to the community. It may have been partly because of the way dad was raised, with granddaddy always being in service to his community.
When dad passed, the entire county Fire, Rescue, and Police paid their respects. I had never seen anything like it before. He never took us to a funeral for a fireman. Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department, where he had volunteered for most of his life, provided a truck to carry him to his final resting place. We drove through all of Shenandoah County on the way to the cemetery. As we made our way through each town, there were fire trucks, rescue squads and police cars waiting for us. Hats in hand, full dress uniform and lights without sirens welcomed us, comforted us and bid a deeply felt fond farewell. I knew he was a good father, a good son and a good man. I did not know how much of a good neighbor he had been until that very moment. I was unprepared, to say the least, but it was one last blessed lesson from the man I knew, who was sent to teach me so much. He had been a part of that “village” since he had been a boy, raising his boys and seeing his grandchildren begin to grow. He gave to the community and the community gave back. His fire department still holds blood drives in his memory.
My very first Father’s Day after my dad passed was also my birthday. It was a day I will never forget. It was a day that destiny laid it’s hand on, and who knows, maybe my dad did too. That day I met for the first time, the man who would later become my Father-In-Law. My future in-laws had no idea it was my birthday. I was joining them for a family Father’s Day lunch out. They had been told that my dad had recently passed and I think they wanted me to have a good day. I knew the moment I met him that one day I would call him dad too. Some people call it “sight” or “knowing”. I think I get it from my grandmaw Barton. She always had visions and knew what was going on. I come by it honest. It was a great day. 
Happy Father’s Day!