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.
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|
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.
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!!
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.
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!