Southerners love to cook. Especially we love those community gatherings where everyone brings their favorite dish and we all sample “just a bite” of everyone’s. My earliest memories of this were “Dinner on the Ground,” and it literally was on the ground. Thinking about it now, I’m amazed we kept the kids from stumbling into the spread – and maybe we didn’t..
I have such wonderful memories of that food – and no matter how many times I try recreating their recipes, they just don’t come out the same. Uncle Henry’s fried chicken, Miss Nina’s coconut cake,
Miss Ethel’s peach cobbler, Aunt Minnie’s chicken and dumplings, Miss Edna’s buttermilk biscuits, and of course, Aunt Annie’s fabled deviled eggs.
Eventually we graduated to folding tables and chairs and finally to a real Fellowship Hall equipped with all the modern conveniences. Much more comfortable but in nostalgic moods, I wonder if we were better off in those days. We were blissfully unaware of the dangers of sugar, gluten, lactose, saturated fat, cholesterol, and vegetarians were, well, just weird. There was no guilt associated with a hamburger and a coke for lunch.
We had no idea the trouble we were in.
My rational self remembers how it was to lose relatives to diet-related disease, especially heart disease and diabetes. These could be devastating for a family, since health insurance was essentially non-existent in those days; health care was pay-as-you-go.
Southerners will always love our community food get-togethers, although today we make at least a token effort to prepare healthful food . However, if the occasional slice of coconut cake happened to sneak in, well.. just a bite couldn’t hurt.
I would definitely not light up after dinner in my favorite restaurant these days, but there was a time when..
Smoking was a rite of passage, a symbol of sophistication. Movie stars smoked: James Dean, Elvis, Kathryn Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, to name a few. Smoke rose along the edge of the TV screen from Edward R. Murrow’s ashtray as he delivered the evening news. Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson smoked. Doctors, including the Surgeon General, smoked. Even Fred Flintstone smoked! Cigarettes dominated the advertising market and heavily supported prime time TV, sponsoring such popular family programs as “I Love Lucy,” “I’ve Got a Secret,” and “The Adams Family. All, among many others, brought to us by the cigarette industry. In this vintage Philip Morris commercial, Lucy tells us “how to keep your man happy” by choosing the right cigarette.
Most men, including my father and uncles, in the small Louisiana community where I grew up smoked. Sundays after church would find them clustered on the steps or under a nearby tree, hastily lighting up or stoking pipes, although it was considered immoral by some, and especially on church property. However, it was more or less accepted as a good man’s reward for bringing the family to church. There was no debate, however, on the subject of smoking for women. It
was “trashy” and everyone knew it. I never smoked until years after leaving home and then never, ever, in the presence of a family member. The only woman I knew who was able to escape the ire of the community for flaunting the “smoking ban” for women was my wonderfully eccentric Aunt Ivalee. But then, she was from New Orleans…
I began smoking in earnest in grad school. And I loved it. I loved it all. The ambience, the romance of it, that special camaraderie among smokers. I loved blowing smoke rings. I loved a cigarette with a cup of coffee after dinner. I loved the way it made me feel. And it didn’t hurt that it helped me keep the weight off. And after all, I could always quit…whenever I was ready.
On July 12, 1957, the Surgeon General issued the first official, and greatly understated, warning about the harmful effects of smoking. Seven years later, the American Cancer Society released a slightly stronger warning. However neither acknowledged the compelling evidence of the link between lung cancer being suppressed by the tabacco industry. A virtual war ensued over the next three decades between health care advocates and the powerful Tobacco Institute. Eventually health advocates won an uneasy peace, taxes were levied, warning labels required, and smoking rates declined, as more and smokers attempted to kick the habit. But what no one knew then, was that the power of the nicotine addition is comparable to that of heroin, and for most people, more powerful than alcohol.
I eventually quit smoking in the 80s, my resolve being fortified by the growing public disfavor of smoking. Secondary smoke had been implicated in lung cancer and growing number of restaurants restricted smoking to designated areas. Some airlines banned smoking on flights less than two hours and by 1990 all smoking on airlines was banned.
But breaking the nicotine habit turned out to be far more difficult than I had imagined. A few days (or hours) after gathering my resolve, throwing all my cigarettes in the trash, out the window, giving them away, etc., would find me scrounging for cigarettes under sofa cushions, jacket pockets, even trash cans. Those humiliating experiences gave me a new understanding of the power of addiction and compassion for those under its spell.
Today, with all the knowledge at hand about the harmful effects of cigarettes, smoking would seem to be a game-stopper. However, about 15% of adults and sadly, 20% of teenagers, are smokers today. I would like to think that if my rebellious teenage self had known what I know now about smoking, she would have exercised the good judgment not to light up. But, sadly, good judgment seems to be something we learn by making mistakes, assuming we live through them.
Click here to view a history of the effects of smoking on health.
As a child, I remember thinking it was weird that the Easter Bunny brought eggs. And exasperating that no one else thought that was a bit strange. Being the person in the family responsible for snatching
eggs from beneath cranky setting hens, I knew for sure where eggs came from.
Turns out, though, there really is a logical explanation for the egg-bearing bunny. According to Wikipedia, German Lutherans apparently established the tradition of the “Easter Hare.”
But far from the cuddly bunny with big pink ears, the original Easter bunny (after all these were not only Lutherans, but GERMAN Lutherans) was actually a stern judge-bunny, dispensing his coveted eggs only to those children who had been good over the Lenten season.
And as for the eggs, early churches abstained from them during Lent. And lacking refrigeration, the only way to keep them from spoiling was to boil them so they could eat them after the fast was ended. And they probably decorated them as part of the celebration. So that explains a lot.
But I still find an Easter bunny (especially a chocolate one) distracting to the Easter message of resurrection and hope. I don’t think the idea of the Easter bunny is harmful to children; I just think it shortchanges them because it misses the life-giving Easter message of hope; the gift of new beginnings,
I don’t have fond memories of the annual Easter egg hunt, where my basket always needed help from the Sunday School teacher. In retrospect, I know this was because of my uncorrected myopia, but still, I think I would have preferred to learn about the Easter Lily.
“Look at all MY Valentimes! (That’s what she called them, “Valentimes.”) She opened her little heart-shaped box made specially to hold them to reveal her huge stash of sparkling red and white cards. “How many did YOU get?” she chimed, smiling sweetly.
I didn’t need anything to carry my valentines in. I may have gotten a dozen or so, if you count the mercy ones from my gramma and my cousins. Mortified, I could hardly wait for the whole thing to be over. But unfortunately for the next 11 years of my life, on February 14, this painful ritual would an annual ordeal. Keeping score became less obvious, but not less brutal, when we reached high school. And if you grew up in a small town as I did, you will know that the little people you hid from in first grade followed you all the way to graduation. So as the Senior Valentine’s Day Dance approached, my little nemesis, now blossomed into a teenage version of her adorable six- year old self, had another embarrassing question.
“Who’s taking YOU to the Valentine’s Ball?” My only hope for an escort, as she well knew, was my younger cousin whom I could have bullied into going, but he danced as though he were shoveling hay. I stayed home.
Valentines Day can be brutal. And not just for kids. What’s more, it is no longer confined to a day; it lasts at least a month. This year valentines were on the shelves December 26! And until February 15, we will be badgered by advertisers trying to convince men that they will be permanently branded uncivilized jerks if they do not spring for jewelry and chocolate. Not just chocolate, but EXPENSIVE chocolate. A Whitman’s Sampler from Walgreens is not going to do it. AND jewelry from the “right” kind of jewelry store. But, just to make things easy, you can purchase your jewelry embedded in a box of chocolate— in the shape of a valentine. Ladies, in turn, are harassed by weight loss plans, fitness gurus and boutiques to shed those last shameful pounds so they can fit into that “little red dress” they need to show off their expensive jewelry at the Valentine’s Day galas. I have no idea who eats the chocolate.
I don’t think this is what St. Valentine had in mind. I am pretty sure he would be appalled to find his name associated with little red and white cards and boxes of chocolate given that his sainthood came at the expense of being stoned to death! No one seems to know exactly how this distorted imagery evolved. But once the greeting card companies came along, well..you know the rest. And not only greeting cards; a search for “Valentines” on Amazon will bring up over two million items for your shopping pleasure, including a four-foot teddy bear.
I don’t remember Cupid in my first Valentines Day experiences. Since we were a fundamentalist Protestant community, our primary schools were not known for their expertise in Roman mythology. And I suspect the teachers considered Cupid’s garb just a little risqué for our six year old eyes. Nevertheless, Cupid has been around since the 1800s. History seems to have treated him more fairly than it did St. Valentine. Son of Venus, Roman Goddess of Love, Cupid is usually portrayed as a scantily clad, if at all, chubby little boy with a bow and a quiver of arrows, poised to shoot his victims, thereby infusing them with an overwhelming desire for a lover. So while the imagery has remained more or less intact, the concept seems a bit off for our modern taste. I don’t think romance would be my first reaction to having been impaled on an arrow. Perhaps this is the real reason Cupid never came up in those early Valentine Days. How on earth do you explain this to a first grader? But if his reputation has remained pretty much intact, Cupid, like St. Valentine, has not escaped commercialization. There is a Cupid dating service, there are Cupid cocktails, Cupid sunglasses, Cupid dog collars. There is a Zombie Cupid, a Spongebob Cupid, and my personal favorite, the Cheese Cupid.
But in spite of it all, I do celebrate Valentine’s Day — in a minimalist sort of way. My husband and I exchange cards, but when the prices hit $6, we started reusing them. We send cards to the grandchildren, even though I’m pretty sure the older ones discard them immediately after pocketing the money. We do not buy chocolate, and especially not from jewelry stores. And we NEVER go to Valentines Day galas. We have had our fill of surfing parking lots, standing in lines, and eating tepid banquet food. We open our dog-eared, recycled cards and watch a movie. It’s wonderful. The days of competing for Valentines Day chocolate, jewelry, and escorts are gone forever.
Meanwhile, back in First Grade, the Valentines Games continue. And now social media has been added to the mix. My mind boggles at the thought of my little tormenter, her smartphone at the ready, armed with the information of my valentine deficiencies. So little psyches are once again bruised and little princesses dream of becoming Queen of the Valentines Day Ball.
I’ll keep sending cards to the grandkids, especially the little ones, just in case.
Photography from Flickr Creative Commons. Pretty Girl: Cheryl Hicks, Musings from the Silent Generation: leakytr8; Vintage Valentines Postcard: riptheskull.
Watching my grandmother (MoMo) make Teacakes is one of my most cherished childhood memories. And I loved getting the spoon to lick, (or sometimes the bowl!) while the aroma of the cookies baking filled the kitchen. (Nowadays cake mixes carry warnings about not eating raw dough. Really? )
Since MoMo didn’t need a recipe for Teacakes, all that remains is what I can remember. Below is the recipe I use for my own grandchildren or for anyone needing serious comfort food. It’s a combination of other traditional recipes and what I remember.
Flour was always sifted to make it lighter and more uniform. Also it had no preservatives, and therefore could have weevil larvae and other undesirables (preservative-free enthusiasts, take note). Since she churned her own butter, she added a little salt. Flavorings were purchased from the “Watkins Man.” (Watkins is still the best vanilla, in my mind.) Electricity wasn’t available in our part of the country until after her death, so she relied on an icebox for the most perishable items; milk not being among them. Cows were milked every morning to provide milk for the day. Cream was skimmed for churning into butter and excess milk was “soured” for cooking.
4 cups white flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup sour milk (or buttermilk)
1/2 pound soft butter
Pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)
1 teaspoon flavoring; vanilla, lemon or almond
Using a wooden spoon, cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. In another bowl mix the sifted flour, baking soda, and baking powder and add to creamed butter in thirds. Then add eggs, milk and flavoring. Mix until a soft dough forms.
Roll out dough on a floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into shapes and bake in a moderate oven (350 deg) until light brown, about 10 minutes. Dust with sugar and let cool. This recipe will make about 2 dozen “cake-like” cookies. They are best when one or two days old, served with cold milk.
Boy, the way Glenn Miller played. Songs that made the hit parade.
Guys like us, we had it made. Those were the days. And you knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men. Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again. Didn’t need no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight. Gee, our old LaSalle ran great. Those were the days.
Those Were The Days, written by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse
Maybe so, Archie, and yes, we never locked the doors and it was safe to walk the streets at night. You knew the neighbors, people helped each other. Life was slower, simpler… BUT
Elastic on underwear was not sewn in but only threaded through casings, and if it broke (and it frequently did), you were literally caught with your pants down! And then there was hair care. Curls were the thing, but there were no “home” permanents Hair was rolled onto rods, and baked on electric rods in beauty shops. Need I say more? And hair color? You might end up with green or purple hair in an attempt to be blonde. And it was permanent. Nice
Canning today is cool. It’s fun to grow your own strawberries and make your own jam. Or to buy pomegranete/boysenberry jam tied up with a boquet of lavendar at the Farmers’ Market. But “back in the day,” canning was a necessity. Home freezers didn’t exist. Fresh fruits and vegetables were available only in season so they were harvested or purchased in large quantities, and canned for the winter. This had to be done quickly to avoid spoilage. The entire family participated and the work was frequently shared among families. Children washed jars and peeled, men cut food into slices and carried the heavy baskets and jars, ladies cooked and put into jars. It was dangerous, hard and tedious work. And uncomfortable. The weather was almost always hot (no AC). And it was far from an exact science It didn’t always work.
But most of all, we forget (or never knew) about laundry. Almost an afterthought for us, accomplished automatically in the background while we do other things, laundry for our grandmothers was a day-long, weekly arduous task. There was no liquid soap or stain remover. Stains were removed on wash-boards with bar soap, often home-made. Unlike the pretty bar soap we buy today at boutiques, they contained no oatmeal flakes, rose petals or lavender beads. It was either lye soap or lard soap, and it didn’t smell good. There were no dryers; washing machines had wringers. Laundry was hand-cranked between rollers, the wet soggy mess dropped into laundry baskets, lugged to clotheslines and hung with clothespins to dry – unless it rained. Then laundry was hastily retrieved and draped over everything in the house that was upright. Today, although drying laundry on clotheslines in the fresh air has some merit, it’s an alternative to the dryer. We seldom iron today. But most clothing and linens were ironed in the “old days.” Laundry was soaked in liquid starch prepared by dissolving a powder in boiling water, and then ironed while still damp with a dry iron. No spray starch, no “permanent press.”
So, Mister Bunker, you have a point. But if we’re honest, we don’t really want our grandparents’ lives. Their lives were harder and their world was far from peaceful. Most lived through two world wars and a depression. So instead of pining for the “good old days,” we should be focusing on making these days better ones. After all, they’re going to be the “good old days” for our grandchildren.
Author’s note: Inspired by newspaper columns by Mrs. Juanita Agan in the archives of the Minden Press Herald.