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!

Hoe your own row

A garden was, and is, very much a part of the landscape of Appalachian homes. We didn’t have a garden growing up, but Charlie and Mary had a huge one. I helped in the garden every year. Several of us neighbors did and we all reaped its harvest.

Charlie taught me to operate the tiller. He kept a watchful eye though the first few times. He worried that it would get away from me and I would get hurt. But I did well and mastered it enough that he found me a couple of jobs tilling up gardens for some friends of his. His was a front tine with the plow bar. He would also get out his hatchet, a couple of wooden stakes and string to lay a row, and we would hoe the row to plant.

Corn was always at the upper end, followed by potatoes. Their grandkids would come visit for a couple of weeks every summer, so we all helped pull up the potatoes. We would get good and dirty and then we could play with the water hose. Beans were next and there were usually a couple of varieties. Cabbage and lettuce, squash and cucumbers, watermelons and onions and a few other things finished up the quarter acre. There was a strawberry patch that was separate from the garden, peach trees and a cherry tree that filled out the rest of the back yard. There was just enough room for the clothes lines and their old beagle.

They first taught me to shuck corn and snap beans. Mary would pick what she needed fresh from the garden as it came in and cooked with it that day. The rest was put up. It was a full-time job when that garden started coming in. We would snap the beans and get jars from the cellar. When it was all over, quart size jars of the most beautiful green beans lined every surface in the kitchen. Corn would be prepared and cut from the cob, jarred up and then we headed back to the cellar to store everything. There, a bin also held the potatoes.

The cellar was half dirt floor and half concrete. They poured just what they needed. It was always so cool down there and smelled very earthy. It was also very dark, so while it felt and smelled good, it was not somewhere you wanted to spend too much time. To get into it, you had to pull up the heavy metal covered doors and descend the stairs to the next door. Our grandmaw Barton had the same kind of basement entrance, but she never let us in it.

For dinner, Mary would slice the yellow crookneck squash into 1/2 inch rounds, dip them in beaten egg and then dredge them in finely ground cracker crumbs. Then she would fry them up, lining the pan as she prepped each one. As they would brown on the underside, she would flip them with a couple of forks and let them brown on the other. Then she would move them to a paper towel-lined plate until she finished the whole batch. She could be at the stove frying up squash for nearly an hour as the rest of the meal cooked. I hardly have the patience for that. If I want the flavor of her fried squash, I’ve been known to short cut the process and fry the squash un-breaded. then as it’s almost done, I take a couple of eggs and whisk them up, break up a handful of saltines and pour that over the squash. Then I toss it around until it is all cooked through. It is not nearly as pretty as hers was, but the taste is pretty close. I just don’t look at it while I eat it and I hope she don’t look down.

Mary always wore her apron when she was workin’ around the house. She was preparing Christmas dinner when I stopped by to check on her. I miss her to this very day.

I moved away as Mary’s health began to decline. She lived to be about 88.

Now, I told you that I got my Bread-N-Butter Pickle recipe from Mary. It is a simple recipe that takes the better part of a day to complete. First, you wash and slice your cucumbers, then you clean up your onions and slice them into large rings about a quarter inch thick. Next, you have to get a big pan, tub or bucket and you begin to layer the cucumbers and onions rings. You take your non-iodized or pickling salt and shake it evenly over the top. Here is the critical part. You must cover them with a thick layer of ice and let it set for 3-4 hours. This is the step that will help maintain that crispness to your pickle chips. The second most critical step is to make sure that after they have set long enough, you remove any remaining ice and rinse the cucumbers and onion rings several times in cold water. You must get all the salt off of them.

While your cucumbers and onions are setting in their salty ice bath, you need to prep the rest. Your jars will need to be cleaned and sterilized. You have to gather your white vinegar, pickling spices, sugar, turmeric and a pan large enough to get everything into, on the stove. Mary used her enamel roasting pan, so I do the exact same thing. Once you’ve rinsed your cucumbers, you begin putting everything together in the pot. It only has to come to a boil and cook about five minutes, so you have to make sure that you also have your lids and rings boiling and ready to put on your jars. You also need to have your canning pot filled and on the stove boiling away, ready to receive your jars once they are filled and closed. Another ten minutes in a boiling water bath and you are almost done. You take your jars of pickles out of the pot and set them on a kitchen towel on the counter. There they must set until they cool. As they cool down, you will hear that beautiful tink, tink song of the jars as they sing their way to sealed. When I hear that I instantly yell out, “Sounds like pickles!” They are not quite done until they have set in a cool dark place for about two weeks, though. Then you will have pickles to enjoy for the next year.

With just the right blend of vinegar, spices and sugar, Bread-N-Butter Pickles compliment any meal!

I know I could have given you my actual recipe for my Bread-N-Butter Pickles, but I am still saving that for some time in the future. I make so many each year, that I have become a little famous among my friends and co-workers for them. They look forward to them now. We only eat a jar or two ourselves each year. I love them, but I love making them more. The last time I made pickles with Mary was probably thirty years ago. It makes me feel connected to her again when I make them, when I taste them and when I give them away. I still have the recipe written down on a piece of paper from a notepad she kept on her kitchen table. I made notes as she made a batch. If anyone saw it, they probably could not make heads nor tales of it, but I know exactly what each line means. It is a true occasion of reading between the lines. Mine may be a little different as every cook plays with a recipe once they know it, but how they are made is the same.

My In-Laws put out a garden for us each year because we live in town and they are convinced there is just not enough room for us to do it here. Their garden is just about as big as Charlie’s. Most of what they grow is for us. They eat very little of it themselves. Mom was so proud the day she learned that I bought my own pressure cooker for canning that you would have thought I told her she was about to become a grandma.

The broccoli has been coming in fast and furious. I made the best pot of Broccoli Cheddar soup I have ever had, just the other week. Red potatoes are on the menu for tonight. Cabbage has been bustin’ to get out of the garden and I ate on a pot of it for a week. Lot’s of zucchini bread is in our future and I have to make sure that all of my pickling spices are at the ready. I will also make Green Mater Pickles, Pickled Okra, and Squash Pickles. That reminds me, I need to get a couple of more gallons of vinegar too. When I make my Bread-N-Butters I make sure to make up a little extra brine. I use it all the time for potato salad, deviled eggs and I’ve been reading lately that it’s great for cocktails. I have to admit, I’m more than curious about that.

Life is good. Gardens are big. Hoe your own row, unless you’ve got someone by your side you can trust.

A Tale of towheaded boys

Here we are, summer ’71. Towheaded and buzzed within a hair of being scalped. That’s with Granddaddy and Grandmaw Edge and Aunt Joan. Grandmaw was never without a smile.

Memorial Day was not the official start of summer for us growing up. We didn’t get out of school until the first week of June usually. The official start was when Mr. Pearson announced free buzz cuts in his barber shop for summer. Dad would load us all in the car, even though it was less than a mile away, and head on up the road. I’m sure he figured that if we walked, someone was bound to disappear on the way. We didn’t want a buzz cut. But, it was free and what parents of four boys are gonna pass that up. I think dad got one too.
Walking in was always an experience. His shop was once his back porch, all closed in. It was very long and narrow, with a door at one end and the door to his house in the middle. The big chair was at the far end. His shop was more than just a barber shop, it was also a minnow shop. Just as you walked in, on the left-hand side, behind the door, were sinks full of minnows. There were other fishing-related items and a pop machine next to that, and the chairs for waiting were on the right.
Each of us had to take our turn in the big chair while Mr. Pearson took the clippers from one side to the next. It didn’t take long. This was not a salon. The only salon we had been to at that point was in the other direction and mom didn’t take us too many times. She didn’t like for us to hear all the stuff they talked about in there. It interested me a whole lot more than the fishing and hunting stories of the barber shop. She probably left us in the car most of the time. Crack the windows and we would be fine. You could do that back then, it was not considered child abuse I guess. But anyway, when he finished, he would take his big brush and sweep your neck with talc and we would jump down. Next!
When we were done, we looked like the smallest and most pitiful military regiment you could imagine. Towheaded and sorrowful. Everybody would say we were so cute. We didn’t think it was so cute. I am not sure why he did this at the beginning of every summer. We didn’t need another hair cut until it was time for school again in September. We were a cash cow for a barber shop. It was his community service I guess. He was a nice man. I can’t fault him for his kindness. His marketing begged understanding.
Summer lasted forever. We only had someone watch us a couple of summers. Mom was home with us at first, but she started working when I started school. So when my oldest brother was a teenager, he was in charge. There were lots of kids in our neighborhood, so we ended up all over the place, but everyone knew who we were and everyone looked after everyone else. It was an easy way to grow up actually.
Evenings were spent outside until way past dark. We would get our big peanut butter jars ready for catching Lightning Bugs. Holes had to be punched in the top so they could breathe, but not so big that they could crawl out. A stick or two and some grass for a natural habitat was essential. The jars were glass and they were big and heavy. Just as it began to get dark, the front yard would light up. It seemed the Lightning Bugs were always just a few feet away and you had to chase them. But, when you caught one, you had to be very gentle with it and quickly throw it in the jar and slam the lid back down. It was hard to be gentle and forceful at the same time. That took some practice. Once you had a few in the jar, it was time to go in. We would get cleaned up and take our jars to bed. I would just lay there and stare at it, watching each one light up, and eventually I guess I would fall asleep. I don’t remember them being there the next morning. Maybe mom set them free, back into the wild vastness of the front yard to live with the ones that evaded capture. Lightning Bugs still fascinate me today. Here in East TN, they call them Fireflies. I like that.
Chores were something else that meant it was summer. We had our regular chores to do all the time, but not many. But, when school was out, we had plenty to do. It did mean that on Saturday mom could take us to the pool though if we got them all done. She had to work lots of Saturdays but usually got home about 11 or noon. We would have everything done and she could just come in change and off to the pool, we would go. There was always a line to get in and next to that line, was another line. The second was full of kids that didn’t have the money to get into the pool. Mom would always be suckered into paying for one. I remember one black kid in particular. It got to the point that he knew when we would get there and we would see him coming through the parking lot as we pulled in. Eventually, he just got in line with us and we all went in together. I want to say his name was Reggie, but I don’t remember. I have no idea what ever happened to him. He went to school in the next town.
Mom always packed lunch and drinks for us, but occasionally we could buy something from the concession stand. Their french fries were the best in the world. I think it had to do with the combination of the chlorinated water, grease and salt. Most of the time, we would just pick at our lunch because of the one hour rule. We didn’t want to have to stay out of the water for an hour after we ate, and we didn’t want to drown either. It was a lot of pressure on a kid to weigh that decision out when you had a boat of french fries, let me just tell you. Sometimes the lifeguard would make the decision for us. They would blow the whistle and tell us it was time to clear the pool. Then they would open the pool for the adults to swim for a little bit. We would raid the cooler and fill up while mom was doing the backstroke.
The smells, sights, sounds and tastes of summer are still so vivid in my mind. The talc of the barber’s brush, mixed with the minnows. The Lightning Bugs adding a glow to my bedroom at night. The lifeguard’s whistle and the taste of those fries. We didn’t have money for big vacations in the summer. Summer was our vacation and it was pretty cool.

Hey mom, I’m goin’ up Markley’s

“Hey mom, I’m goin’ up Markley’s” was something heard quite often in our house. If one of my brothers or me didn’t say it, it was “Who’s goin’ up Markley’s for me?” from mom. Markely’s In-Between Store was a general mercantile I guess. It was the Walmart of our little town before we ever knew what Walmart was, or any chain store for that matter. And, we didn’t actually go up, because it was south of us. For some reason, we all referred to south as up and north as down. When we went up Markley’s, we just meant that we were going up to. I don’t know why we dropped the “to” either. It was our Appalachian shorthand I guess.
Like I said, they carried all general merchandise. We mostly went in for the pop and a candy bar, but dad bought more than one pair of work boots and coveralls from them over the years. We may have even ordered a wood stove from them. I don’t remember, but I know they had them. All that kind of stuff was in the back of the store and it was dark back there, so we stayed to the front where the good stuff was anyway.
When you walked up the wooden steps and onto the front porch of the store, you were greeted by a huge and heavy set of screen doors, followed by wood and glass double doors. If it was nice out or summertime, the wooden doors were propped open. The screen doors had big metal handles on them made by Sunbeam Bread or something like that. Every time we would come flying through the door, Mrs. Markley would say “Don’t let that door slam!”, just as it did just that. We’d reply “I’m sorry Mrs. Markley!” and keep on going.
There were coolers down the left-hand side of the store when you came in. In one of the coolers was always a big ole cloth bologna. If you wanted, they would cut off a thick piece with a butcher knife, grab a couple of slices of white bread, slather on some mayonnaise and there you had the best sandwich you ever tasted. They didn’t worry about putting on plastic gloves or even getting a clean knife to cut the bologna with. The best they could do was rip off a piece of wax paper and put it down on the counter. When they were done, they used that to wrap up your sandwich. We were probably barefooted to begin with, so germs were not a concern anyway.
The isles were not very long, but they were tall, and they were stocked to the gills. Although as a kid, it probably seemed bigger and more stocked than it probably was. I could look up and down those isles for hours I think. I would look over the Hershey bars, Sugar Daddys, Big Chew bubble gum, Tootsie Pops and penny candy in between. All it would take was .35 cents to get a pop and a piece of candy or two. They had a big chest freezer with sliding glass doors on top to hold the ice cream. Oh, on a hot day, an ice cold pop and a Nutty Buddy was pure heaven. There were also regular groceries, but I was not one bit concerned about something I had to prepare. I wanted something right then. I remember getting a bag of Bugles and a pop on Friday nights so I could watch Donnie & Marie and have a snack.
Mr. & Mrs. Markley ran it every day, all day long. I only remember a time or two that they had someone else mind the store. They eventually retired and their son and his wife took over. By then I was a teenager and I could drive. But up to that point, goin up Markley’s meant a walk about a mile away. That was nothing for us as kids. We did it all the time. We even did it for neighbors if they needed something. And, when we went for them, they usually paid for our pop and candy. By the way, if you have not figured out by now, a pop was any soda. It could have been a Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew or anything in a bottle. And as a kid, they all came in glass bottles which were returnable for a refund. That was another source of income for a pop. There was this one time that a neighbor told me that she had called Markley’s and had them put something at the counter for her. All I had to do was pay for it and bring it to her. When I got there, sure enough, there was a bag on the counter and they were waiting for me to pay. I got myself a little something, paid for what was in her bag and began walking back home. I, of course, got a little curious, so I looked in the bag. It was a box of feminine products. I knew what they were by looking at the box because there was a box just like it in the linen closet at home. I just didn’t know what feminine products were for. I didn’t care. I had what I wanted too.
When we walked, we had two routes to take. One was the road. We lived just off the main road that connected all of the towns around us. There was a sidewalk for part of the walk, but that didn’t start until you actually got into town. Lots of times, though, we would take the alternate route, which was the railroad tracks. That was the real scenic route. The tracks ran right behind our house. They actually touched our backyard. We pretty much knew when the train would be running, so we knew if it was safe to walk the tracks. And, if our calculations were off, there was usually enough room to get off the tracks if the train came rolling on by. I didn’t care for being that close to the train, ever. I didn’t really like it being that close to our house. My brothers would try to scare me with stories of Dracula and The Werewolf getting off they train at night and coming to the house, but I’ll leave my daily torments from my brothers for another post… or several.
Markley’s In-Between Store has been closed for a couple of decades now I think. It served it’s purpose well when it was open. The store had actually been there for about a hundreds years before they bought it I believe. It was called Clem’s Store then. I had even read once that the store used to set on the hill behind where it was when we knew it. It had apparently been moved on logs down the hill. Which is pretty amazing when you think of the size of the two-story building and the steepness of the hill. Today it would not be moved unless a dump truck took care of it.

Markley’s In-Between Store as it looks today. I would say the building is about 150 or more years old. It served it’s community well. In its heyday, it was one of three stores in a row, on what was thought of as Main Street.

We had the best Mom, and that’s no Tale.

We had the best Mom. The Creator knew exactly what he was doing when he gave us her. I’m not so sure he gave her a fair deal with us sometimes, though. We had to say goodbye to mom over a dozen years ago now. It sounds like forever and feels like a moment ago.

I can still hear her voice. Some people would say that she and I sounded alike. Some would say that I looked like her. “Oh, that’s Barbara’s boy for sure!” They’d say. I got her temperament too. Well, maybe more like her temper. You could get her dander up, and she would commence to slamming cabinet doors in the kitchen like you have never heard cabinets slammed before. I remember one time she started slamming doors and when she opened the next door, a wine glass fell out and popped her on the head. It shattered and glass cascaded all around her, and she began to laugh. She got the message loud and clear. Laughing at yourself is important.

Mom was funny, even when she was upset about something. I think it was her way of coping with things that bothered her. She did love to laugh and she thought we were hilarious sometimes. She liked to sing too. I don’t think many people knew that about her. You would catch her humming something or singing while she was busy. But I don’t remember her ever joining the church choir or anything like that. I don’t think she thought she could sing, but she could. I remember her telling me that when she was a little girl, she somehow discovered that if she would sing into the gas tank on the car, it had this incredible echoing sound like you were singing into a microphone on a big stage. So, she did that one day with her father’s car. They soon found her passed out, apparently from inhaling too many of the fumes. That may have stunted her desire for the spotlight.

She was a lot like her own mother too. She grew up staying busy, being faithful and knowing that you contributed to the household. That is how she raised us as well. We all had chores to do, but we never took care of as many things as she did. Her mom was straightforward. She told you exactly how it was and how it was going to be. Mom was kind of the same way, but maybe not as direct. Maybe I just looked past it. She went to church pretty regularly and for a few years, she and dad were the leaders of our youth group. She volunteered for lots of things at the church. That was another thing she believed in contributing to; your community. She didn’t do huge things because she was not in it for the glory, but the gratification. She mostly did the small things that people didn’t usually think about. Cleaning the bathrooms at the church. Washing dishes at the fire hall. Collecting donations door to door.

She was a strong woman, but she had her weaknesses. She battled cancer three times, but a moth flying around her could bring her to tears. She called them “cattlebats”. It took me forever to figure out why she called them that. I think I asked her once and she just said that’s what they are. But, I think it was just her way of saying “candle bats”, which would make more sense. Her reaction to one did not make sense, though. One time there was a cattlebat flying around in the car and she broke the door handle off trying to get out. You always knew where there was one around. She was the first to spot it and then she would yell “Cattlebat!!” That meant, drop whatever you were doing and save her. We are all so grateful that she didn’t like the smell of moth balls, or they would have been everywhere in our house. I don’t remember her being scared of much more, though. Cattlebats was enough.

I am sure we were hard on her at times, but she remained dedicated to us. She loved all of us equally, which meant that we were all her favorite. I just happen to know I was her favoritest favorite. Don’t tell my brothers. I’m not sure they could handle the truth at this point. Her favorite color was yellow. Her favorite flowers were irises and roses. I grow both and think of her often when they bloom. I remember the hillside at the bottom of our yard when we were growing up, being filled with irises. We also had a triangle shaped bed of them by the back door. We never grew roses, but my grandmother had several in her yard. On Mother’s Day weekend, we would have visited and they would have walked around the yard, looking at all of grandmaw’s flowers. Grandmaw would give us cuttings of things. Not much survived, but we did have some Rose Of Sharon trees that she started for us and I am sure that’s where the irises first came from. I also have Rose Of Sharon in our garden today. So much of what we have, I know mom would love to walk around and look at and talk about.
My mother-in-law will be over for dinner this afternoon. We will walk around and look at all of the flowers, shrubs and bushes and anything else that is in bloom or growing right now. If she sees a weed she will pull it. I could use the help. I take in those moments. They make me feel even more at home. I am blessed to have had such a great mom. I am blessed to have a great mother-in-law too. No matter how old you get, you always need your mom. No matter how old she gets, I think she always needs to be a mom too.

My yellow irises. We never had yellow ones growing up. I think most of ours were blue and pink, but these make me think of mom. I took this a couple of days ago. Today there is just one bloom left. I think she was holding out for Mother’s Day.

Our yellow roses. My grandmaw had a yellow rose bush behind her garage. It was not out where you could really see it with the rest of her flowers, but she enjoyed it just the same.
The Appalachian Tale

Memories, recipes, and Tales of an Appalachian Boy.