Friday, May 20, 2016

Sandwiches--How American Can We Get?

I grew up on sandwiches, namely baloney and peanut butter, not together, separate.   Mother always presented our sandwiches with the crusts cut off.  One day I was the "mother" for a day for my tiny sister. In our kitchen we had an enamel cabinet with a flat counter. Sis was as tall as the counter. She put her hands on the knobs of a drawer underneath, her eyes level with the counter, watching me as I made her a meat sandwich.  First was the mayo, followed by a slice of baloney. Now for the crusts.  I picked up a knife quite large for the job and began to imitate Mother's cutting job.  Only after one side's crust was removed, I began on another. The knife slipped  across the enamel and slid into Sis' eye.  I had the presence of mind to call the lady in the upstairs apartment to help.  No bleeding, just a crying kid. Fortunately, we got her to the doctor who put a pad over her eye and eyedrops to us for a few weeks. Today she has better eyesight than I. is a weekly site I subscribe to that discusses sandwiches.  Americans today are sandwich happy. From the lowly, poor man's lunch to the staple of America, specifically sandwiches like the sub, the po'boy, the breakfast sandwich, cheese sandwich  and others have evolved into a staple of the American diet. Then the all-famous-well-known sandwich, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is cited:

 "Like the sandwich itself, the peanut butter & jelly is a complex culinary stroke, masquerading as a simple dish. And like America, its true power lies not only in what it is, but what it represents. So the next time you bite into a PB&J, salute the stars and stripes, think about your childhood, and just try not to shed a patriotic tear along the way. This is America. And this is our sandwich."  
I can't imagine any kid who hastn't tasted a PB&J.  In my day and time the acronym was never used.  We asked for peanut butter and jelly.  My daughter for some reason as an elementary student would only eat PB&Js for meals other than breakfast.  When she visited friends, I warned the mothers not to expect J to enjoy the home-made meals, as she is addicted to peanut butter and jelly.  (I, also, slipped around and cut the edges of all sandwiches for her and her brothers.)

In our local paper  our food expert from Hattiesburg Robert St. John spoke about "uncrustables" in his family. I knew what he was talking about.  He said his mom made PB&J sandwiches with crusts removed, cut them in half, and put them in a freezer bag to be taken out in the mornings for lunch boxes.  Adults also dropped a couple of frozen sandwiches before going fishing or hunting.  

I wish my mother were here to enjoy the article. She was often ridiculed for making "tea" sandwiches for my lunch. I thought this was her way to entice us to eat.  Now I think she was passing down a custom of her own mother's. Rather than her making a "I-told- you-so" remark, she'd have smiled.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Remembering My Parents

I'm in the middle of a biography of my parents. When my parents came to live with me the last five years of their existence, I made one request of them.  Write about your growing up. I handed them a bound note book I thought would entice them to write.  Daddy, hungrily took the book and went to his office, a separate building in the backyard where he repaired clocks. Mother, on the other hand, put her book in the bedroom saying, "I'll think about it."

In a few days Daddy handed in his book, completely filled with a note attached "Addendum 1 in the works."  Daddy not only had florid script, Palmer's best, but a way with words. Sis and I can claim our love of writing came from him.  Today those words ring more true to his identity than they did when he handed me the book and announced, "There, that's the beginning." I will  write his story  soon.

Mother took her time to write. I knew heart strokes erased much of her memory, as her writing covers her youth with her brothers. She dwells a bit about Daddy's family's unacceptance of her.  Her mind couldn't get out of her childhood. I knew direct questioning would be the best tact for her.

Time after time I'd sit with her and ask questions. She couldn't understand why I was surprised at her marrying Daddy after six weeks of dating.  I held back from then on to make light remarks at some of the experiences she enjoyed: early boyfriends, her poor school grades, life in the big city alone.

My first project was about Mother.  I felt I had a better understanding of her after the many talks. Too, she had diaries she kept  from time to time in her married life, the letters she wrote me, and notes of our small talks.  Together with old snapshots I created Mother's life. I felt good with what I'd accomplished.

I shared the fourteen pages with Sis. "That's not at all what I know of Mother! I'd never have written her life that way. You left out Daddy."  I explained I wanted to concentrate on each of them and then their marriage and family.  " I'll write about Daddy later," I explained. I wanted some tidbits she remembered about the woman who raised us, paid for our every need, taught us to be independent. We were early latch-key kids before the term originated.

True, we siblings have different views of our parents. Surely some events are shared more than others. Sis sums up her contribution with, "I wrote about Mother in an essay. Find it and use that. I don't remember like you did."

My trouble with Sis was my approach. I should have sat down and discussed each parent and taken notes.  I didn't. Don't make the mistake of waiting too long to get your sibs to contribute to family stories.  Writing who your parents were and their personalities are components to letting them live in your own children's hearts.

Note: having my parents write in their own handwriting is as precious as ever. In future generations their descendants will admire "the old way" people wrote.  Be sure to leave something in your own handwriting, whether it is a grocery list or a note to you.

Friday, December 18, 2015


I don't count how many years ago Sis and I signed up for hiking around Santa Fe and Abiquiu, New Mexico. We walked three miles daily at the local park and I was about to increase time to three more. Sis made a suggestion one  March morning while the sun was warming us ,"Let's go with Elderhostel's hiking group to Santa Fe."  Hey, I walk daily, I can hit the trails with ease, so I thought. With doctor's approval of my good health we signed up.

I had "the big head," an expression we used to use meaning being overconfident. I anticipated the week-long trip to be adventurous, full of new contacts, exploring the beauty of that part of New Mexico.  But I wasn't prepare for lay ahead.

Being inexperienced kept me back from enjoying the treks, the beauty of reaching new heights, the feeling of accomplishment to make the climb. I made a few trails, some so narrow I refused to look down, some squeezing between rock formations older than I, some climbing over tricky rocks with no room to wiggle. I began one trek when I realized  how arduous the three-hour hike would be. I sat down at the lower end of the trail and waited. The group was composed of very experienced hikers who wondered what a cluck I was to make the trip. Sis did well. I whined the entire time due to my embarrassment over being inexperienced. I had a few hikers helping me with their pats of reassurance that I'd find something good about the trip. 

We spent two days in Santa Fe and three in the distant outpost of Abiquiu.  Our lodging was at Ghost Ranch properties in both places.  While in  Santa Fe we had evening activities to enjoy.The latter three days about the only activity we had was hiking. 

When Saturday arrived, we packed up our cars, hugged everyone and headed home. Before we headed for Mississippi, Sis and I toured four states along the border checking out the Indian sites. Despite being April, we had quite a lot of days of chilly weather.  We arrived home to begin our three mile walking on flat ground at the local park, memories of hiking pushed away in our brains. No more 6,000 ft elevations.
Early Stage of Hike
Entering the Narrows
Climbing Old Indian Ladder

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


My last entry was about my birthday plate (among other things.)  I'm busy writing stories remembering the time of growing up.  I feel ashamed, in one way, that I've spent so much time about myself, but I span 50 decades of changes in daily and world-wide operations. I want readers of the future to know what someone in the "dark ages" felt, thought, and acted.

Today I want to share a common recipe with readers.  If you grew up in a rural area during the Depression or a time when money was less than usual, your mom/granny/auntie/ or that wonderful person who cared for you surely made HOE CAKES.  I put my sample photo on Instagram only to find some similar ones showing a hoe cake dressed up.  I made mine from cornmeal mix and made them thin as were the old-timey ones.

The two best ways to eat these, warm or cold, is to have on hand old fashioned butter like the brand put out by the Amish.  Tastes like the kind my grandmother made when she churned.  She made a lot of these hoe cakes. She put them on top of the wood stove, which held heat, and any time of the day, family could grab one, slather it with cane syrup or use the home made butter.  

For a memory lift I warmed two and poured local-produced cane syrup, dark and thick, over the cakes.  A treat that carried me back to age five.  This is easy to make with a mix.  However:

Hoe cakes, according to dear Mother, were made with plain cornmeal and water.  Nothing added like baking powder results in a flatter cake. She related her job as a pre-schooler of taking lunch to her brothers and the field hands in a metal bucket.  Most ate with nothing added, as utensils weren't handy in the cotton field.  The field hands in the early 1900s had nothing more to eat than that for their evening meal.  At lunch they ate a slab of meat and a couple of hoe cakes and kept working throughout the afternoon.  When we kids were left to our own play, we stopped long enough in the afternoon to snatch a hoe cake, swat it across the butter still sitting on the dinner table, and run to finish our game.  Biscuits from breakfast were available until noon.  Biscuits were big enough for us to punch a hole with our forefinger and fill with syrup.  Umm, makes my mouth water.

The next time you are in a restaurant and hoe cakes are on the menu, chances are the chef has dolled them to resemble a taste of corn bread smothered in seafood, roast beef, onions, and served it for a price that is ridiculous.  Try them yourselves, give them a topping, and show them off at your next meal.

Friday, August 28, 2015


Someone asked me last week “How are you celebrating your birthday?” I said “No special way. No one notices my date except a few close friends, my Sis, and my adult children.”  As I reflected, I thought how important Mother made of Sis and my birthdays.  She even had “Happy Unbirthdays” to celebrate with us. She loved giving us gifts like a bracelet, a book, or a new dress.  She reminded us weekly, if not daily, how much she loved us. Throughout my growing years I wanted a cake baked by Mother to sit on the tiny footed cake plate she bought for me.  It had to be decorated in pink letters made of sugar that said, "Happy Birthday  Vivian."  That plate is still as colorful as when the first cake sat there eighty years ago.

I married a man who rarely remembers dates of any kind. The few times he has and has produced a gift, I’ve been surprised.  Early in our marriage I usually got a flower pot or something worth giving Goodwill. I decided I didn’t need any more flower pots so I insisted he not worry about my special date. Then he began taking me to dinner. That lasted three years.  Here’s a man who, with each of three children born, gave the hospital nurse three different dates for my birthday. We had been married five, six and ten years at the time. The fact that he’s still living and talking to me every day is gift enough.

Sunday I’m turning 83 and I don’t care about a present. I need a hug and a vocal “Happy Birthday, love you”.  I don’t mind if they add, “Old gal.”  I’m excited to be my age and in decent good health.  That is the best gift I could receive.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


   In the last years of my life I’ve had to make sacrifices. The material kind. Moving out precious memories in the forms of travel items, writing materials, cooking vessels — about anything I’ve accumulated in sixty years of marriage and eighty years of living
   Today I spied a white box sitting in the living room.  I intended checking the contents and discarding any and all within. Inside were the best annuals I’d collected from my own school and college attendances. Also were a number of yearbooks from the various school in which I’d taught.  For the next hour I revisited those schools, remembering the students I either taught or  with those I came in daily contact. I mulled over each photo on every page.  I searched the faculty and could count most of them had passed.  Only a few like me were still functioning. 
   Yearbooks are memories we want to cling to.  High school was a remarkable experience. In her article “Why You Truly Never Leave High School,” published in New York Magazine (Jan. 20, 2013), Jennifer Senior makes these observations based on studies by sociologist, developmental neuroscientists and psychologists:
   “Not everyone feels the sustained, melancholic presence of a high-school shadow self. There are some people who simply put in their four years, graduate, and that’s that. But for most of us adults,s the adolescent years occupy a privileged place in our memories, which, to some degree, is even quantifiable: Give a grown adult a series of random prompts and cues, and odds are he or she will recall a disproportionate number of memories from adolescence.”
   Senior goes on to state the music sung and danced to as adolescents remains with us throughout life.  Oh,  I’m happy to know that music of the 1930s and 1940s I still enjoy listening to is okay.  I can sing almost every line of every song written and performed over the radio. I’m okay, the writer says, since neuroscience has proven this.
   To round out my family stories I searched Google for a list of 100 songs of the 1940s and spent  time going through the list singing as many lines as possible.  I thought printing that to include with my memoirs would tickle the readers who take my place in this world.  
   Who writes songs with titles like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” Ac Cent Tchu Ate the Positive”, “Shoo, Shoo, Baby,” or “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy?”  These songs covered all aspects of living. Also during WWII love songs and patriotic songs kept our spirits high.
   So it is with the yearbooks I’ve kept from 1949 until 1994.  They comprise pictures of life which swirled around me as I grew to became an adult.  They comfort me, more than reunions with people I don’t recognize but once taught or shared a classroom.  My hope is my descendants will hold onto these memories as a keepsake of what life was like in “the old days.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Changing Gears

Our house was built in 1968.  Today inside has numerous spots that need improving: painting here, plugging holes there, repairing this and screwing that.  To say our house is falling apart -- no. It's in need of a makeover.  R is too weak to worry; I'm too weak to worry.  What a spot we're in.

When we built the house we had two sons and one daughter living with us. We arranged the rooms to give the kids their own space with two exits to the back yard.  Our area had none. We had to go into the living room, through the dining room to two exits.  Perfect set up.  We planned to live in this house forever --whatever that means.  We didn't take out nursing home insurance nor life insurance.  We planned our demise in this home with its now too large of a yard.  One weekend our daughter and son-in-law visited us and announced, "We want to buy your house." Like manna from heaven, those words seemed.

We whipped out some plans. R and I had space to live in until we moved out.  No big changes would occur unless we all agreed.  A lawyer drew up the papers.  Our daughter began her plans to move into the area she and her brothers once inhabited: two bedrooms and a bath.  We'd have the same area we used: bath, study, bedroom.

However, we had the responsibility to pare down our belongings. You've had to do that also, haven't you? Loads of clothes, books, souvenirs from previous travel, collections of dishes --all disappeared within weeks.  The most difficult goodbye was to dishes I'd collected from my mother's day, some she'd used. Nothing fancy.  She bought them at the grocery store. Yes, even in the 1940s grocery stores offered dishes a piece at a time.  Long before this time I had given away our orange juice glasses that once held jellies; my first set of dishes, picked out before our wedding; vases and pots picked up at some Indian post out west; all difficult to whisper  "goodbye."

Several years ago I gave to oldest son the set of Lemoges china my parents bought directly from the factory in Paris on one of their last trips abroad. I was always afraid to use the pieces because if one broke there was no replacement, so I thought.  A few years ago in a shop in New Orleans I watched as the clerk in a china shop unpack a set of the same pattern of Lemoges I owned.  Their price for a set of six, with all serving dishes was $100.  I was anxious to buy the set.   I'd always have a replacement.  However, the wise old man with me put his foot down.

I've not decided what to do with my crystal dishes.  They are beautiful.  They mostly are for serving.  There are some dessert cups and small plates.  Right now they are lined on every surface of my bedroom.  In fact, the bedroom has everything I've no other place to store.  We sleep surrounded by mountains of down comforters, precious books, high school and college yearbooks, boxes of snapshots taken over fifty years, and loads of memorabilia saved for genealogy.  In short, our bedroom is a MESS.  However, since we are asleep most of the time while there, we don't worry about moving anything --yet.

Separating oneself from precious collections is no easy feat.  The easiest ones leave in boxes bound for Goodwill, the dearest ones sit quietly and unobserved until the pass-along fever hits. Not one to sit dripping from heat during a garage sale. In a few days I don't remember what I once owned.

In fact, this situation happened when my parents no longer could take of themselves. They moved in with us and said farewell to those ugly lamps, a collection of salt and pepper shakers,  pots and pans, dishes, and Daddy's clock repair tools. Occasionally, one would say, "I can't find that book on the Civil War." and I'd remind that a it sold at a library sale. So now R and I are repeating their experience and everyone else's who've had to move and pare down.

This move is no different from the need of our having to change environments.  What's important is to cooperate with our new owners, share in housework, eat what is served, and not worry about a dripping faucet, the failure to mow the yard, put out ant poison, or any of those natural responsibilities.  As our daughter says often, "It's your turn to sit back and relax. We'll take over."

Truly a beautiful feeling.