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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Take Me Home

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

It all started with a hump in the floor.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Tale of a trip around the sun

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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





Sunday, February 12, 2017

Stinking' to high heaven


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

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

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

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

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

I shred the cabbage on what Mary called the ole knuckle buster, toss it into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. I taste it after it is mixed and add whatever is needed for taste. Sometimes it's a little more salt, sometimes more vinegar, and sometimes more sugar. I like the blend of tangy and sweet, with that bite of fresh cabbage. Then I like to let it set for a couple of hours in the fridge.
The ole knuckle buster, as Mary would call it. It's quick and easy to use. I prefer it over a food processor for shredding the cabbage.


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


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

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

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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Tale of a Singer and the pincushion

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

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

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

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


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


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


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





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

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

The parts look brand new.


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

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A hot toddy and a few bucks in my pocket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

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

It would have been this weekend 40 years ago, and for many years before and many years after, that mom would have gotten out her Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. She would turn to tab number 8 for cookies and page 149. Right there, was the only recipe for cookies that she would use for Christmas; Sugar Cookies.
You can see the stains of a well-used page. It's a simple recipe that holds so many memories.



Her big Sunbeam Mixmaster would come off the top shelf and it was time to get started. Creaming the sugar and shortening, adding the vanilla and being taught how to crack an egg - this is when a kid realizes that mom is a magician. When the dough is done, it would go on the bottom shelf in the fridge and we would spend the hour cleaning up and getting ready to roll it out, cut it, and bake.
This isn't mom's. Her's died and sat in the kitchen closet for a few years before she threw it out. I think hers had metal bowls instead. When I could afford my own stand mixer, I got a new Sunbeam Mixmaster for myself for Christmas one year. A couple of years ago Mick got me a KitchenAid and attachments.


Mom had a small set of aluminum cookie cutters. There was a Santa with a pack on his back, a bell, a star, an angel and a tree. There was one more and mom used to cuss it every time we used it, the one-hump camel.
These are similar to the ones that mom had. I don't know if one of my brothers has her cutters or not. I remember them always being in the bottom drawer in the kitchen. 

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

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

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

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

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

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