Tag Archives: grandmothers

You Know You’re in the South When….

 

 You order iced tea and your server responds, “Sweet or unsweet?

A stranger strikes up a conversation with you at the produce counter and you don’t look for the manager.

It’s hard to find parking in the church parking lot on Sunday.

The ONLY dressing is cornbread dressing.

 

The  “ballgame” means football.

 

 

Mama is a force to be reckoned with.

 

Men look forward all year to a weekend on a freezing lake in an outrageous contraption hoping to bag a duck or two.

If you visit, you have to eat.

 

And family is forever.

 

 

 

 

Storytellers

I come from a long line of Storytellers.  If I asked my mother what day of the week Christmas fell on this year,  her answer might take a few minutes as she reckoned it against the events of  last year.

“It was on a Wednesday last year, I know that, because  I remember thinking I wouldn’t have to iron that week, Wednesday being my ironing day.  And I know it was last year because that’s when  Emma’s grandbabby was born.  Poor little tyke  had to have an operation of some kind.  I forget now.  Had to be in the hospital for several daysstoryteller and Emma was just beside herself.  I had to go over and help her with the housecleaning, she was so upset.  She had all that company, all the way from Oklahoma, you know.  Her two brothers, Pete and Buddy, and their wives and five kids, the oldest only seven,  her great Aunt Mary,  in a wheelchair, and Aunt Mary’s lapdog.  Meanest little cuss you ever saw.    All of them there to see the baby.   It was a crowd, I’ll tell you that.  Poor little tyke.  But  he’s OK now, you’d never know anything happened. Such a pretty baby.  And smart as a whip.   Emma’s so proud.

So since it was Wednesday last year, it must be on a Thursday this year.”

If all of that sounds a little convoluted and tedious, you don’t come from a family of Storytellers.    Nothing happens in isolation to a Storyteller.

“The Wreck At Sugarmill Junction”  is inspired by an accident that happened in a small town near my home in Louisiana. The accident itself was unremarkable. Nothing much more than a slightly damaged squad car.  What interested me was that no one who witnessed the accident saw the same thing. Not even close.   But even more intriguing was the Storytellers’  strong sense of place.  Each identified themselves in unique relationship to their community, relating the story in the context of the place and people they knew.  The Storytellers  savored, almost seemed to taste, each detail in their narrative.  In the long years away from home, I had forgotten about the Storytellers’ version of the news.   I was spellbound,  a child again, for a moment in time,  hypnotized by the lyrical cadence of the speech, the escalating excitement as the story approached its apogee,  the dramatic conclusion, the inevitable coda, “Oh, and another thing…”

Storytellers cannot be rushed.  They require a peaceful setting.  A porch swing accompanied by mending and fresh lemonade is ideal, but a vegetable garden or a kitchen will do.   Storytellers do not frequent Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. The story is based on fact,  but details can be altered if need be to make the point.   Truth, not fact,  is what Storytellers are about.

And my mother’s storytelling; while mixing biscuit dough, hanging clothes on the clothesline, sewing, picking peas from the garden;  in the midst of life is where I learned our family history.  Here is where I met my ancestral heroes and villains (in Mother’s opinion), learned about my grandmother’s struggles in the Great Depression, and her mother’s difficult life in the “War Between the States.”  Here is where I formed my concept of right and wrong, good and bad, what is acceptable behavior and what is definitely not.

My mother worked hard.  There were no vacuum cleaners, automatic dryers, microwaves or air conditioners.  Our food came mostly  from our gardens and stockyards, not the local A&P.    My clothing did not come from Neiman Marcus, my mother sewed it on a vintage Singer sewing machine.   She did not have the luxury of sitting down every morning with a Moleskin journal and a pretty pen to write her memoirs.  Her stories were her memoir.

I am afraid we’ve lost the art of storytelling.   At the least, it’s a dying art. In our large cities, the people, places and things around  us  provide little more than a backdrop for our busy lives. We rush past traffic accidents with no thought for the victims, more than a little annoyed that we’ll be late for whatever seems crucial at the time.  We read in “bytes.”  I wonder how War And Peace  would make it in our “Haiku world”.  But there’s no chance of turning back the clock, and the idea of that is no doubt better that the reality.  But, every now and then, I just need to listen to a Storyteller.

———-

Look for The News from Sugarmill Junction, Chapter 3, coming soon.

Flying Toward Forever by Marla Cantrell

Eunice Iola Mondier was my grandmother. Small and short and black-headed, with crystal blue eyes, she attended the Second Baptist Church. She sold Beauty
Eunice Mondier 001Counselor makeup. Even then, when I was a girl, I felt as if she should have attended the much bigger First Baptist Church, as if she should have sold Avon cosmetics. Those were names a person could get behind; they were A-list material. At least that’s what I thought when I was all of nine years old.
Which is a nice way to say that my family was very nearly poor and not well connected, which seemed at the time to
matter more than almost anything else.
Not that she ever said that to me. Her life suited her just fine. She wore old clothes and drove quick new cars in bright colors with wide racing stripes. She wore big straw hats and spent afternoons fishing. She got her hair done on Fridays and spent the rest of the week sleeping with a pair of satin panties on her head to keep her up-do up.
My best friend’s grandmother wore a bun, made her own clothes, and baked like she was getting graded on it. What she talked about, when I sat at her cozy kitchen table, was the weather.
My own grandmother defied storms, standing in front of her picture window as lightning struck, as hail pelted the catalpa tree, as thunder shook her little house.
You don’t learn to crochet from a grandmother like mine. You don’t learn to bake, or clean, or do cross stitch.
I did learn from her, though. She taught me the books of the Bible when I was in her Junior Sunday school class and gave me a religious charm bracelet as a reward. She picked up a raft of kids on her way to church, from places that made our trailer, that we’d parked right behind Grandma’s house, look palatial. She sang in the choir, her alto voice so low that it verged on being bass.
At home, she talked back to soap operas and indulged in a little gossip, both things my parents disapproved of. But she also took in her full-grown nephew after he suffered a brain injury that made living alone impossible. What I remember most was how she seemed to delight in him, and in doing so he got a lot better than anyone expected him to.
When I got engaged at a ridiculously young age, she kept her mouth shut and bought me a can opener. “Man’s gotta eat,” she said, and that’s all she said. Later, when the marriage failed, she told me about her first love, Alonzo Willett. I had seldom heard his name, even though he was my grandfather. The story of his treatment of my mother and grandmother was cautionary and filled with so much pain it rarely got told. But on this day she said, “There’s no love like your first love, and he was mine.”
The statement solidified everything I knew to be true about my grandmother. She was not easy to pigeonhole. She taught Sunday school, but smoked clandestinely, a big no-no in the Baptist faith. She shunned divorce but had gotten one from Alonzo in the 1930s when her community considered it treachery to do so. She remarried a saint of a man soon after, someone she loved dearly, and when he died, she went out and found a third husband. “If something happens to him,” she said, once, her head held high, “I’ll go get me another one. I can’t live without a man.”
As far as I know my grandmother never wrote anything other than a few letters, so I don’t get my writing gene from her. And she didn’t read excessively. A few magazines, the Bible, her Sunday school lesson. She had a collection of Reader’s Digest condensed books that did little more than frustrate me, so I didn’t get my incessant need for stories from her either. I don’t think I got my brains from her either. She was a dozen times smarter than I will ever be.
I like to believe I got a dose of kindness from her, but I might be flattering myself. I do know that I’m glad she wasn’t the pie-baking, hand-sewing, fairy tale-reading grandmother I thought I wanted when I was younger. She was tough like cowboys are tough, and soft they way women whose hearts are broken early sometimes are. When I think of her now, it is always when she is behind the wheel, her foot hard on the gas pedal, her eyes just barely scaling the top of the steering wheel. I want her to slow down, but she can’t, and so keeps going, until the road turns to silver beneath her and the sky opens up and takes her away.

MoMo’s Teacakes

Watching my grandmother (MoMo) make Teacakes is one of my most cherished childhood memories. Unknown-1 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.

INGREDIENTS
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

DIRECTIONS

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.