Conversations with Mama: You never know what she will say and more… #4

Conversations with Mama… and more~ #4

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Mama in front of the Civil War monument in Union Point, Ga. – in front of the mill.

I called Mama tonight to tell her who the woman was from Siloam that I’d met online. She recognized her last name (Underwood), and said “she must have been the youngest of the family,  I did know her older brother (Gilbert).” The woman told me about riding the school bus and  that her uncle, Jimmy Copelan, had been the bus driver. When I asked Mama, she said. “I remember Mr. Jimmy, as we called him. He was the one who always waited for me, as I took too much time fixing my hair in the morning and deciding what I would wear to school. He said that the best gift I ever gave him when I graduated from high school was that I didn’t ride the bus anymore. I remember always being the first one on the bus in the morning and the last one off in the afternoon. I  remember how he’d sometime just stop the bus if he saw someone he wanted to talk to – and leave me sitting on the bus – and often in the heat of the day; maybe that was to teach me about making someone wait for you.”

Mama was sitting outside today peeling apples again as she chatted on the phone. Ever since she made that first apple crisp, she’s not letting the rest of the apples go to waste.

“I remember one day at our bus stop that I’ll never forget. Our stop was at Bryson’s farm – it was the farm right before ours, coming from Siloam. The bus used to pick me up at our farm, but during WWII, to conserve gas for the war, the bus stop was moved and everyone had to walk there. Patriotism was very important during WWI and WWII – not like today.”

“On that day, after I got off the bus and began walking home, a sawmill truck came by and stopped in the middle of the road to let the local men off who worked for them. They yelled out something to me as they jumped off and began walking toward me. I didn’t wait around to see what they were saying or thought they were going to do – I dropped my school books right there in the road, and took off running through the fields toward my house. When I got home, my legs were all cut up and bleeding, and I was crying; I was about thirteen at the time. After I told Daddy what happened. and identified one of the men, he took the axe handle and waited by the edge of the road. The one I knew was the preachers son, Luther Goss, and he lived just down the road from us. Mama was crying and crying as she just knew that Daddy was going to kill him. When he did walk by, Daddy grabbed him by the collar and dragged him down to his house and told his father, Preacher Goss, what his son had done. Preacher Goss never allowed Luther to go anywhere alone without him after that, and he continued to go everywhere with his father until he passed away. After that incident, I never had to walk to the bus stop at Bryson’s again – the bus came right to the house to pick me up every morning. I’m sure daddy had something to do with that.”            

“I had been raised to be afraid of black men , especially the young ones. This was just how it was in the South. The older gray-haired black men never scared me – they were of a different generation. Even today, I’m still afraid to be around a group of young black men. I guess it’s just the way I was raised. It doesn’t bother me to be around the women, but if there is a black man there, I feel a little uneasy and nervous. I guess it has something to do with them chasing me when I was young.”

As the conversation turned to politics, she said. “What we need is a president with an education and some dam common sense. What we only seem to have is just people with an education, and no common sense. I don’t know what this old world is coming to – it says in the Bible that the meek shall inherit the earth before time ends, and I believe something will happen. It also says in the Bible that we shall destroy ourselves and that is what it looks like more and more everyday. My father was a true Democrat through and through – and he loved to talk politics – he was very opinionated. Whenever he went to the filling station on Saturdays to hang with the other men, that was usually one of the topics, unless it was fox hunting” (On this day, 8/8/2008, gas at Mama’s had come down to $3.69 a gallon)

“Daddy’s cousin, Lawson McKinley, who owned Ulmer’s store in Siloam was the Mayor of Siloam – bet you didn’t know that? And his uncle Joe McKinley was the Chief of Police. They literally ran the small town of Siloam. Daddy was given Uncle Joe’s police revolver after he died, and I gave it to you along with my Daddy’s two rifles. It was always told to me that the pistol had notches on the handle to mark some of the men Uncle Joe shot.” (There are no notches on the handle – only a few cracks)

“Did I ever tell you that the only sheets we had for our cotton-filled mattresses were made from flour and fertilizer sacks? Mama saved every sack; she bleached and sewed them together to make large enough sheets to put on the mattress. There were no fitted sheets back then – they were all flat sheets. I even had some at our house when you were small – you slept on them too, but never knew it. Sometimes the pretty, printed flour sacks she saved to use for her quilts or sewing. She even made my underwear with them. I never had store bought underwear until much later.” 

“My father grew popcorn in the cotton field, but on the other side of his regular corn field. You couldn’t grow it near regular corn or it would mix together on the corn ear. He cut the dried corn kernels off with the corn sheller in the barn after they dried. That was how we made our popcorn. Mama had a cast-iron pot with handles and a lid – we popped the popcorn over an open fire or the fireplace.”

“When my father planted sweet potatoes, he planted them in rows of mounded dirt. He walked and laid the potato slips on top of the mound and then walked again with a forked stick and pushed the potato slip down into the dirt. Those were old fashion ways of planting – he knew what worked the best when it came to planting.”

 One night I asked Mama “what happened to Daddy’s Navy uniform?” Her reply, “I probably took the scissors to it and made something else. I was always cutting up clothes to make something new with the material. I didn’t waste anything – I learned that from my mother. She never bought new material to make quilts – all her quilts and most of my clothes were made from using other material. She saved feed and flour sacks, and tobacco pouches – everything was saved and used over and over again – not like today, where they just throw it out and buy new.”

“While your father was in the Navy he began to lose his teeth because he had jumped in the contaminated ocean water from the  atomic bomb blast. They had been told not to jump in the water, but some of them did it anyway – and he was one of them; he had been on a ship that was stationed nearby when they set off the atomic bomb tests.”

In researching this I found that daddy was on the USS Blue Ridge  when it departed San Francisco on June 12, 1946 en-route to Bikini Atoll, on the Marshall Island, to observe the Atomic Bomb tests. He was assigned to the USS Blue Ridge on March 22, 1946 and sailed onboard until August 17, 1946. The ship first touched base in Honolulu, Hawaii en-route to Kwajalein Atool where embarking generals and flag officers of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, along with United Nations officials for transportation, came aboard to observe the Bikini Atoll Atomic Bomb tests – it was called Operation Crossroads. The USS Blue Ridge hoisted the flag of Vice Admiral H. W. Hill, also onboard was Vice Admiral G. F. Hussey and Vice Admiral A. E. Montgomery. The USS Blue Ridge arrived at Bikini Atoll on June 29, 1946, serving as one of the command and observation ships off Bikini during the Atomic Bomb Test “Able” on July 1, 1946. She later called at Ponape and Truk in the Caroline Islands, then proceeded to Kwajalein where, on July 23rd, the USS Blue Ridge became the flagship of Rear Admiral C. C. Glover. The ship now again served as the observation flagship for the atomic bomb test of July 24th; she then hauled down Rear Admiral Glover’s flag on July 27th, and sailed home on July 30th. The USS Blue Ridge arrived back  home at San Francisco’s inactivation overhaul in the Naval Shipyard at Terminal Island and was decommissioned on March 14, 1947. The ship remained in reserve until Jan. 1, 1960, when her name was struck from the Navy list and later sold for scrapping on Aug. 26, 1960 to Zidell Exploration Incorporated in Portland, Oregon. The USS Blue Ridge (AGC-2) received two battle stars and other awards.

“ I never had luck in making biscuits like my mother. She cooked her biscuits from start to finish in a warm oven (wood stove). I devised my own way – and it works for me. Another little trick of mine, that I learned from my mother, is that after you remove the biscuits from the oven, quickly flip them over to rest on their tops. It keeps the biscuit top softer. I don’t understand it, but it works.” (And it does work!)

In asking Mama about cars her father owned: “I probably never even saw a car until I was about thirteen years old (1943). We went everywhere in Daddy’s wagon until he bought his first car, which was a Model T Ford. I feel I grew up ignorant living on the farm. Basically I only went to school and came home; I wasn’t allowed to stay after school and participate in sports or other activities – that would have meant Daddy had to come and get me – he wasn’t going to do that. I wasn’t a city kid – they were the only ones who did activities. We were poor farm kids!”

“I believe it was much colder when I was young, then it is today. When we lived in the log cabin (1930-40), I remember sometimes seeing several inches of ice on the ground in the winter. My brother, Leroy,  often skated around on an ice patch that always formed near the chimney. One time he slid into the brick chimney, hit his head, and knocked himself out.”

“I wonder what my father would think today, if he came back and saw the world. He’d be flabbergasted at how I-20 came through on the outside of Siloam, and if he ever got on one of those super-dooper highways, well he wouldn’t know where he was for sure.”

“My father would never have let me leave his house and live with my boyfriend, like they do now. If I had told him I was moving out to go live with Clayton, he would have beat the sh__ out of me for sure. Back then, you didn’t live with a man unless you were married.”

“I’ll never forget when Aunt Chris (Askew-Amos) died, everybody was there taking everything. I happened to walk by the back door, as we lived just next door, and I saw Aunt Chris’s small dome-top trunk sitting outside. I asked what were they going to do with it, and when they replied nothing – I asked if I could have it. I dragged it home and kept it for years until you took it to Connecticut with you. I later asked them if I could have Aunt Chris’s favorite red purse, that she carried everywhere with her – you had wanted it. They gave it to you to keep. Aunt Chris was your favorite aunt. You would run over to her house yelling “Aunt Tis, I want pancakes.”  And she’d make them for you.”

“I don’t know why, but I never liked white cornbread. Mama Bryan always made hers with the white cornmeal. I like mine yellow, and only about 1-inch high – I don’t like it thick. I like it nice and crispy on the top and bottom. The best way to eat it, is right out of the oven when its crispy and warm. There’s nothing better than crumbling it up in a tall glass of cold buttermilk. I remember my father taking his corn to the mill to get it ground. The only ingredients I put in my cornbread is just yellow corn meal, a pinch of baking soda and enough sweet milk to mix it all up together. You want it a little loose in texture – I also don’t use any eggs and neither did my Mama. The only difference between us is that she used buttermilk, where I use sweet milk, and she used lard to grease her pan, I spray mine with Pam. I was never in the kitchen when Mama cooked – I had no interest in cooking. I liked to go to the field with Daddy and sit up on a rock and read a book. If I stayed around under Mama, she’d put me to work churning butter – and I hated to churn!”

I asked mama if she ever made buttermilk and… “I never made buttermilk like you told me you did – adding lemon juice or vinegar to milk. The only way I made buttermilk was when I churned the cream to make butter, then after I took the butter off the top I’d let the rest sour until it clabbered and that was the buttermilk.”

“I don’t ever remember my Mama loving on me or telling me “I love you, or look what I made for you.” We had nothing in common. I couldn’t just sit and talk to her about things, like pretty dresses or how should I wear my hair.”

“My cat, Kitty Ken, lived a long time – way up until I was married. And then one day, Daddy told me he tried to hitch a ride. I guess he meant that Kitty Ken had gotten run over.”

“When we ran Moss Oaks Lounge in Perry, I could tear up those slot machines we had there. I’d sit on the bar stool and watch the men play, and I almost always knew when the machines would hit. They’d walk away and I’d go over and put my quarter in, and often, out came loads of quarters. If I could feel the handle click, I knew that I was going to make a hit. Sometimes I’d put my ear next to it and hear the click; I milked them dry many nights. I guess those were some of the best times I had when we ran that club. Most nights I’d bring home most of the change and leave it on the top of your bed. You’d wake up to find a headboard full of change and know that Mama hit on the slots.”

“Do you remember the story about the little red hen – she’d scratch and scratch to plant wheat, grind it into flour so she could make biscuits for her little chicks to eat? I used to read stories to you, then you’d remember them and sit and read them out loud to yourself. You had plenty of books – I bought them every time I went to town. And you never wanted anyone to touch them either. When you were little, you kept your room just so – everything was in its place. But when you were a teenager, you kept your room a little harum-scarum.”

“I don’t remember you ever being scared of the dark when you were small. You were under five when we lived in Union Point and you’d take the flashlight at night and walk two houses down to Mama Bryan’s house. You weren’t afraid.”

To be continued…

© 2015 Jeanne Bryan Insalaco


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1 Response to Conversations with Mama: You never know what she will say and more… #4

  1. Evelyn Smallwood Smith says:

    Wonderful story. Mama and Papa McKinley had moved to the city by the time I came around, so I don’t recall the churning and all but I do know everyone loved cornbread and buttermilk. Papa gave me a small glass of it one day and I can only imagine my face. Ew. I know I scrunched up my nose and handed the glass back to him. He laughed. Never took a liking to it. Mama McKinley and Mother made their cornbread with yellow cornmeal and thin. It was so good. The way they taught me to make cornbread was with buttermilk, Crisco, tsp baking soda, pinch of salt and one egg. I use self-rising cornmeal, sweet milk, bacon grease, salt and egg. Don’t keep buttermilk around as no one in my house drinks it. Miss Helen is right about cornbread being the best straight out of the oven. Cornbread is also best in a cast iron skillet. No baking pans for my cornbread.
    Mama McKinley made her biscuits with buttermilk also. Hers were flat and so good. She would always split them and place a pat of butter in them, then put them in a basket she had lined with a kitchen towel before putting them on the table. She never mentioned anything about turning them over to keep the tops soft. May have to try that with my next batch.
    For years I had a popcorn popper for the fireplace, until one of the kids left it in the fireplace too long. Haven’t gotten another one. Actually, I don’t eat much popcorn anymore, so I haven’t thought much about it. I also never knew you could put the corn in a cast iron pot over the fire. That is very interesting.
    The more I read about your granddaddy, the more I wish I had known him. he sounds like a very wise man in many ways. Your mother is one of the fortunate to have grown up in the times she did. Times have changed and evolved and sometimes I not so sure for the good. Sure, we have the technology these days for so many things. Some things are made easier because of technology but there are still other ways of life that have gone by the wayside, causing the true meaning of life to be forgotten. Yes, our parents were fortunate, whether they realized it or not.

    Liked by 1 person

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