Conversations with Mama ~ #6
“Your father was always a little scared of my father. Clayton knew that if he ever really did anything to me, that my father would go after him. Sometimes when we stayed at the farm, he would go out of his way to not stay in the same room where Daddy sat. All the McKinley men could be mean when needed and my father was definitely no exception.”
Tonight I told Mama that Rose and her parent’s canned tomatoes over the weekend; she told me how she used to canned tomatoes. “I put the tomatoes in boiling water first, then peeled the skin off and chopped them up. After my canning jars were sterilized, I scooped the tomatoes inside the jars and sprinkled a little salt on top to preserve them. Allen’s mother taught me that trick – it worked. I then capped and wrapped them in a blanket until the lids popped. That was the purpose of wrapping them – the pop meant the jars sealed.”
I told Mama how Rose and her mom used a grinder to crush their tomatoes and that it separated the skin at the same time. They then cooked the crushed tomatoes slightly and added 1 bay leaf to each jar when filling. After they sealed the jars, they placed them in a cool place and covered them with a blanket for awhile. It sounded similar to how Mama canned hers.
Mama reminded me tonight of another one of her sayings. She said, “lately I’ve been as ill as a hornet and mean as a junkyard dog.” Sounds like people better keep out of her way. She’s been getting upset with herself because she forgets where she lays things and has to hunt them down.
I asked Mama about her best friend Willie Mae Walker (Sisson) tonight and …. “Willie Mae and I were best friends from the first day of 1st grade. I looked at her and said, “I don’t like this place” and she said, “I don’t think I do either.” That cemented our friendship and we are still friends today. I lived in Siloam and she lived between Siloam and Union Point on her father’s farm. We went to elementary school together in Siloam, but later her parent’s, Bill and Katie Walker, moved to Union Point and she finished school there, while I went on to Greensboro to finish – but we still remained friends. Mr. Bill ran the “City Hotel” in Union Point. Daddy often took me to Union Point on the weekends to stay with her and her father brought me home. We had a lot of fun at the hotel and that’s where I met my husband – he was the best friend of her boyfriend; they both were in the Navy.”
In asking Mama tonight what books she read to me when I was small, she began telling me, “ I used to love to read “The Little Red Hen” when I was young. I loved that story and probably read it to you too, but I don’t remember now. I read some books to you, but I wasn’t a reading person then. You used to take your books and go sit on the porch with Aunt Chris and she read to you. You had a lot of books because every time I went to town I bought you a new book and your Grandmamma McKinley bought you books too. You had many of those little Golden books.
Once someone read a story to you, you remembered it. You’d take the book yourself, go sit on the porch and read out loud – and it sounded and looked like you really were reading. My mama read to you some when you were really young – she read to me and my brother Leroy a lot when we were young. My father couldn’t read, he hardly had any schooling – probably no more than a fourth grade education, but he had much common sense and knew how to make money. Mama read all the mail that came to our house.” (The census noted he went through the 7th grade)
The Little Red Hen is an old folk tale, and the best known version in the United States is the one popularized by Little Golden Books; a series of children’s books published for the mass market since the 1940’s. In the tale, the little red hen finds a grain of wheat and asks for help from the other farmyard animals to plant it. No animal is willing to help. When the wheat matures, she asks for help to harvest it, then thresh it, then mill it, and finally bake the flour into bread. At each stage she gets no volunteers. Finally she asks who will help her eat the bread. All the previous non-participants eagerly volunteer, but she declines their help and eats it with her chicks, leaving none for the others.
The Little Red Hen
LITTLE Red Hen found a grain of wheat. “Who will plant this?” she asked. “Not I,” said the cat. “Not I,” said the goose. “Not I,” said the rat. “Then I will,” said Little Red Hen. So she scratched and she scratched and buried the wheat in the ground. After a while it grew up yellow and ripe.
“The wheat is ripe now,” said Little Red Hen. “Who will cut and thresh it?” “Not I,” said the cat. “Not I,” said the goose. “Not I,” said the rat. “Then I will,” said Little Red Hen.
So she cut it with her bill and threshed it with her wings. Then she asked, “Who will take this wheat to the mill?” “Not I,” said the cat. “Not I,” said the goose. “Not I,” said the rat. ”
Then I will,” said Little Red Hen. So she took the wheat to the mill, where it was ground. Then she carried the flour home. “Who will make me some bread from this flour?” she asked. “Not I,” said the cat. “Not I,” said the goose. “Not I,” said the rat.
“Then I will,” said Little Red Hen. So she made and baked the bread. Then she said, “Now we shall see who will eat this bread.” “We will,” said cat, goose, and rat. “I am quite sure you would,” said Little Red Hen, “if you could get it.” Then she called her chicks, and they ate up all the bread. There was none left at all for the cat, or the goose, or the rat.
When I called Mama tonight, I asked, “do you ever remember your dreams – I don’t seem to dream, as I haven’t remembered any in a long time.” Mama said, “I dream a lot and I always go back to the farm when I was a little girl. Even when I lay here awake, I put my mind back to the farm and think of all the things I did there. I guess that was the best part of my life back then – I had no problems, no worries. Those were the best times of my life! I’ve also dreamed about when you were a little girl. I never dream about living in Union Point or Perry though. I can’t even hardly remember living in our houses in Perry any more.”
“We had Brain Power again today at the senior center. The woman brought checkerboards with her and all kind of games. I played against some of the others and won every game. I remember playing checkers with my father. He enjoyed playing that game – you used to play with him too. Daddy and I also played Chinese checkers and the card game Set Back. When we played the card game, it was Daddy and me against my mother and Leroy.”
“I remember May Day at the Siloam school I went to. We even had a Maypole! On that day we had all kinds of jumping and racing games in the schoolyard. My brother, Leroy, was elected King of the Maypole one year – I think I was probably in the first grade. It was usually an all day affair at school.”
“They were making a scrapbook at the senior center today and teasing me about the sexy picture of me that they put on one of the pages. I began telling them about the time I danced on the tables at the Moss Oak Lounge we ran – that would have been a sexy picture. I did some sexy dancing on the tables that night. The night we hopped up on the tables was the night that the owner told your father he didn’t want anyone dancing on the tables. As soon as I heard that, Millie White and I jumped up on the tables and started to dance. And he never said a word to us – wouldn’t have done any good as I had no intentions of getting off.” I asked Mama if Daddy cared that she did that? Her answer, “I didn’t ask.”
“When I asked Mama, “who taught you to sew?” and… “No one taught me to sew, I taught myself. I never went by patterns either, I can’t follow written directions on sewing or crocheting. I took old clothes apart and made my own patterns using newspaper or either someone might have given me a pattern. Any clothes I didn’t wear anymore were always ripped apart and the material re-used. That’s probably what happened to your father’s Navy “whites.” They most likely became white slacks for me or you. I re-used everything until it couldn’t be used again – I was frugal then and still frugal today! (I watched a Martha Stewart show today and they were teaching kids to knit using these words – “Under the fence, catch the sheep, back we come and off we leap. I knew if I didn’t write it down here, I’d never remember it myself. I told mama and she said “that would never make me learn how to knit!”
“I remember crocheting poodle dog bottle covers and doll toilet paper covers. I never had directions, and even if I did, I couldn’t follow them. I made mine by looking at one and copying as I worked. The toilet roll covers were for a doll that wore a crocheted dress and stood in the middle of the toilet paper roll and covered the paper. I made quite a few of them and gave away. I could never sell anything, no matter how cute people said they were – I just couldn’t sell anything. I also made flowers from pantyhose and made arrangements on driftwood, which were very pretty, but no one would pay for them – they all wanted me to give them away.”
“I first sewed on my mother’s pedal sewing machine and after I married, Daddy bought me my own Singer sewing machine – still with a foot pedal; later we put a motor on it to make it electric. I made all my dresses on that first pedal machine and yours too. I wish I had kept that sewing machine today and feel sad that I eventually let it go, thinking a newer one would be better – it wasn’t! My old Singer was much more reliable.”
“I remember one time, that while my Mama was working in the field, I found some brand new material she had and made curtains for my room and even a skirt for my make-up table. When Mama came back to the house and saw that I had sewed all her material – she cried. Daddy told her not to cry, he’d buy her more. Back then, material was hard to come by and she mostly reused her cloth over again, along with the sacks that the flour and fertilizer came in; they were often pretty printed cloth material. Having brand new material was precious and that’s why she got so upset when she saw that I had sewed it.”
“In the beginning, when I first began sewing, I didn’t use patterns and probably didn’t even know how to use them. When I lived in Perry, and knew how to really sew, I then sewed with patterns. I remember that at night, I’d lay in bed and think about how I would make something, then the next morning I’d get up and sew it.”
“Before jumpsuits for women were even thought of, I made them. I wanted one because I’d seen the airmen wearing them, and I thought they would look nice on me, but there were no pattern for them at that time. I pinned a pant and top shirt pattern together and cut it out as if it was one piece and made my own jumpsuits. Everyone wanted to know immediately where did I get them – there was no place to buy them. If I’d had any brains, I could have probably designed something to sell or even sold my idea, but who knew. All I knew was that I wanted one. I sewed them in every color and wore my new jumpsuits all the time; they were so comfortable. One Halloween I made myself a polka dot jumpsuit, attached a tail in the back and put fabric ears on a headband to wear – I was a cat. I drew whiskers on my face and I thought I was the cat’s meow that night at the club. I got a lot of attention, and almost got in trouble, as I walked around twirling my long tail in my hand and saying “meow.”
“When you were small, and we lived in Union Point, I made you a pocketbook to match every dress I sewed for you. They were made out of oatmeal boxes. But as you got older, you didn’t want any home-made dresses anymore or pocketbooks, you wanted store bought. You also wanted overalls and a stick horse. I guess you wanted to match your grandfather in wearing the overalls, and the one toy you had that you really loved was your stick horse – you rode it around the house so much that you wore the end down to a point.”
To be continued…
© 2015 Jeanne Bryan Insalaco