We spent most of the weekend working outside, in between the storms, relocating many of our shrubs, bushes, and plants in preparation for our next project. Work like that makes me feel more connected to grandmaw Barton. She was always working in her yard. She could make anything grow and was always giving us cuttings or potted things for us that she split from other bushes so we could take them home and kill them. A few things survived though, but only until my brother, Bobby, decided that they were in his way when he mowed, so he cut them down or mowed over them before they had much of a chance. We moved 3 yellow rose bushes, 2 pink rose bushes, some weigelas, scotch brooms, crape myrtles, and a bunch of irises. We really didn’t want to move things when they were blooming, but we didn’t have much of a choice. So, I hope everything survives, but I expect they will look a bit worn for a while.
Some friends from Virginia will be coming down in a couple of weeks to help us. I am liking it to an old-fashioned barn raising. I am more excited about them visiting than I am our new project. I hope we have some time to get out and play a bit and not spend a long weekend just working. We rode around today after our work was done, just taking in the beautiful afternoon we had. It didn’t take long to end up at a park that we like to go to that has a great lookout point, picnic areas, and trails. We got out to take a walk along a trail, but the heavy rains we had yesterday made them very muddy, so we decided to go back another day. I think we will take our friends out there for an afternoon when they come down.
The park is called Panther Creek. It reminded me of a park that we used to go to when I was a kid. It was called Uncle Tom’s Park. We went mainly for the huge spring-fed pool that they had. On a hot day, it was great. The water was as cold as ice, but after you were in it for a few minutes, it was just fine. It sloped off so you could walk in where there was just a few inches of water and by the time you got to the slide, you were in over your head. I remember finding the spot where the water would come in. It was a trough just wide enough to get your feet in. We would walk through it and the water was the coldest right there. Your feet would turn blue, but we didn’t really care. It was so fun. We could then run across to the other side of the pool where the water would go out. It was almost warm there so you could thaw your feet out a bit. I also loved getting a coke, in the paper cup with Coke on the side, full of ice. One time mom got me a huge spiral sucker as big as my head. I started into it right away, but after a while, I realized that if I tried to finish it, I would never make it back into the pool. I think I tried to wrap it back up to take home, only to find out that you can’t wrap a licked-on sucker in napkins. Oh well, I had more time in the pool.
|I found this picture online. I also found out that the park is not operating as it did when we were kids. The pool is no longer open, but you can camp there.|
I am sure we also took a picnic lunch or used a charcoal grill to cook some hotdogs. The only other time we went to a picnic shelter or cooked out anywhere but home, was when granddaddy and grandmaw Edge took us. Since they moved around a lot for the church, they always had a new place to show us. One of those picnics was at a park that had paddle boats. Grandmaw Edge was wearing a green and black plaid dress so, she wouldn’t get in the paddle boat. I remember seeing her on the shore, carrying a red metal picnic basket. They had that basket for years and I always remembered that park when I saw it. She just waited at the picnic pavilion for us and had lunch ready when we got out of the lake. It was the first time I had been in a paddle boat and I don’t think I did it again until just a few years ago. The second time was not nearly as fun as I remembered. Paddle boats are a lot of work.
|This was a family picnic just before I was born, so I guess technically I was there. It was something we did often with granddaddy and grandmaw Edge. I love that they used pyrex, real plates, and silverware. I wish I had a picture with that picnic basket in it.|
As we drove through Panther Creek, we rolled down the windows and you could smell the grills and a few fire pits with people cooking burgers and hot dogs. Smells like that take you back so quickly. We had already had a little lunch, corn dogs actually, but I was tempted to jump out and take a hot dog from somebody’s grill. We saw a few turkeys and kept our eyes out for deer, but didn’t see any this time. We also got out at the top of the park, where they have a lookout, giving you views of the lake. It is always so beautiful and I want to go riding on a boat sometime and go out to one of the islands you see peppered throughout the lake.
I’ve said it many times, my mom didn’t cook much. That doesn’t mean that she wasn’t a good cook. One of her greatest cooking talents was making meringue. She always achieved that perfect peak. But, I only remember her making meringue for one thing… her Fluffy White Frosting out of her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Her go-to for dessert was a yellow cake with fluffy white frosting.
We had Mick’s family down for Mother’s Day today, so I thought I would make something using meringue. Mick’s mom likes coconut and I was still working on perfecting a new coconut pie I have been working on, so I thought why not. I hadn’t made anything with meringue in a very long time. I was a little nervous. I made a chocolate pie too, which I also wanted to top.
|Before I baked them to set the meringue.|
We had a great day. Mick’s parents got here about 11am and stayed until 3pm. I think that’s a record. His mom always worries about her cats being in the house alone, so she usually wants to get back home quickly. It was really nice outside, but a little warm. Still, we didn’t want to be inside. We set up the BBQ chicken, baked beans, potatoes and cole slaw on the porch. I also made deviled eggs. It might be the Southerner in me, but there always has to be a plate of deviled eggs at every gathering. I also wanted to include my grandmaw Edge in the day, so I used a serving bowl of hers. I think it was on every table we ate at when we visited them growing up. I think one time when dad went to visit them, they sent some food back in the bowl and we just never gave it back. It was one of the things I wanted when we cleaned out dad’s house.
|It’s part of a whole set of dishes grandmaw and granddaddy had. I think its called Alpine Swiss or something like that. I looked them up once and they came from gas stations. You could get different pieces with a full tank of gas.|
I told you a couple of weeks ago on social media that I had an announcement to make and if you hadn’t already guessed what it was, its that I am writing a cookbook to go along with this blog! I know I told several of you and I’ve made small mentions of it, but it is officially in the works. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to turn this blog into a book someday. I just didn’t know what kind of book. Just like this blog came out of some of you telling me that I should write, the book idea turned into a cookbook because so many friends and family have told me that I should write a cookbook. It may just turn out to be something that I self-publish and give to family and friends, but it would be great if it turned out to be something more. I plan on it being more and I am moving in that direction. I will need your help though. I need your support by spreading the word of this blog and my social media pages. It would greatly help me find a publisher if I have a strong following to show them. The growth of this project has been slow, but purposely so. I want it to be something that people want to read and that it grows organically. I could purchase apps or use services that go out and find me followers. That would certainly make my social media presence grow, but will they know who The Appalachian Tale is? Personally, I follow what I see pages or people that I like. I figure if they like something, I will too. Or, I will search for topics that interest me. One of my favorite topics is Appalachia! I search out and follow pages, blogs, podcasts, etc. that feature or focus on Appalachian living. These are kindred spirits that have ended up following me too. Its helped me build a little community for myself of like-minded people like The Blind Pig & the Acorn and Appalachian Mountain Roots. If you like me, you will love them! I learn so much from them and look forward to their posts. So, please share my posts and pages with people you think will like it, and then ask them to share it too. Again, I want this to be for people who are interested and engaged. I know I have been distracted and have not written as much, but I am getting back to it and you will see much more. I want to share this journey with you, especially if I am asking you to help me. I need to come up with some type of reward for helping me! I will certainly give mention to several people in the cookbook. Just your engagement so far has helped me. So, from here on out, some of my posts will be about the cookbook, more recipe testing and I also want your feedback. Let me know what you think about a recipe, tell me if you’ve tried it and how it turned out. Ask me questions and ask them about anything. I am pretty much an open book myself! So with all that in mind, here is a post about the cookbook.
Last week I got to spend some time with Aunt Alice and Uncle Andy. Alice is dad’s sister and they live just outside Atlanta, GA. I asked her ahead of coming if she had any of grandmaw’s recipes or cookbooks, that I am working on writing a cookbook. She immediately responded that one of my grandmaw’s recipes was on the front of the fridge. As soon as I got there, I took a pic of it. I just couldn’t wait to see it. I hadn’t seen her handwriting in a long time. It was as familiar to me as she was. When I saw it, I could see her face and hear her voice. She always called me Jim, whereas my family always called me Jimmy. Only she and a couple of other very close people call me Jim and I like it that way. So when I saw it, I could literally hear her say “Jim, here’s a recipe for your cookbook.” Aunt Alice calls me Jim too.
|Grandmaw Edge had the best smile and laugh, and she did both all the time. By the way, I have the bowl just to the left, between the mug and the salt shaker. It matches the pattern on the mug!|
I loved being around grandmaw. She had a great sense of humor and the best laugh. I remember one time that we got her to laugh just by laughing ourselves, over nothing. We all ended up in tears and couldn’t breathe because we were laughing so hard over nothing at all. I think a good laugh is like a good cry. You feel so good afterward and recharged. She was genuinely interested in you and you could have the best conversations with her. One time while visiting them, I got myself in trouble for something. As punishment, I had to stay at the house with grandmaw while everyone else got to go somewhere. I don’t remember what it was that I did, but I remember that afternoon with her, and it was great! She made us lunch and we sat on the screen porch and talked. It was probably the first time that I got some alone time with her, which is rare in a big family. I don’t know why she was being punished and had to stay with me, but I think she enjoyed it as much as I did. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what I missed out on. I hope everybody had a good time doing whatever it was they did, but I doubt they enjoyed being gone as much as I enjoyed them being gone. I was probably 5 or 6 when that happened and I didn’t get some alone time with her again until I stayed with them for a few weeks the summer I turned 12.
After Alice showed me the recipe on the fridge, she pulled out her recipe box. I went through the whole thing and ended up taking pictures of nearly 70 recipes. I only remember her making us a couple of the things I found, so I have more recipes to find. I am hoping someone in the family has more. Some of the meals I remember the most included pot roast and gravy and mashed potatoes. She always fixed us a big breakfast, so the smell of bacon always makes me think of being there too. She probably just knew how to make those things, so I will never find her recipe for those.
The first recipe I’ve made so far is her Three Way Shortbread. I am not sure why it’s called Three Way though. The recipe only has two ways on it. So, I figure that I am destined to come up with the third way, which I think will help me feel more connected to the whole project. It’s like decades ago she left so one of us could finish it. So far I’ve only made the first method, which is basic shortbread. It was so good too. Some things don’t need to be complicated with layers and layers of flavors.
Here is her basic recipe:
1 1/4 cup plain flour
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons butter
For shortbread wedged, mix flour and sugar, add butter and mix until crumbly. Form into a ball and knead until smooth. Roll dough into an 8 inch circle. Cut dough into 12 or 16 wedges. Do not separate. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes. While warm, recut wedges. Remove from pan.
|I cut it into 16 wedges, which made them the perfect size.|
|Tender and sweet|
So I did as instructed. After cutting them the second time, I did let them cool on the pan until they firmed up. I probably should have left them in a minute or two longer to crisp up a little more. They were done all the way through, but I like them a little crisp.
For the second method, she made Thumbprint cookies. What do you think I should add for the third way?
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!