Conversations with Mama: You never know what she will say and more… #8

Conversations with Mama… and more ~ #8

“I never remember being scared about living on the farm by myself. I never thought about anyone coming to the farm – most people in town were afraid that ET’s (my father) ghost was still on the farm. I always told people he was still there and it made them afraid to come. Even when I came home late at night from my job at the Holiday Inn in Madison, I wasn’t scared. Sometimes I’d come home to find I hadn’t even locked up the house – and I still wasn’t afraid to go in and be there alone. I always felt safe on the farm. I always felt like Daddy was still there – and protecting me.”

Helen new_0010 (360x460)

Mama posing – as usual. Love the Canna Lillies on the side of the house.

“My girlfriend, Willie Mae, would never sleep at the farm, and especially after Daddy died. She believed then that his ghost was still here. Anytime she visited me here and a cloud came up, she’d have to leave quickly, wanting to go home. I remember one time, it was storming and raining hard and as she was leaving and when she stepped out into the yard, a bolt of lighting hit the ground – she ran back in the house, but soon left anyway. She didn’t seem to care how bad the outside weather was, she’d rather brave leaving, then stay safe in the house.”

“It was always dangerous to be outside in the yard on the farm when it was storming. The ground on the farm was full of iron rocks and they attracted lighting. I remember one time when lightning struck and a ball of fire rolled all around the well house.”

“When Daddy bought the farm from the government, they thought they had the right to try and come teach you how to farm your land. They even tried to teach Mama how to can. Even after Daddy told the woman that Mama had been canning for years, she kept insisting until Mama and Daddy stepped back and let her show them her way – she was determined. She began teaching from a book she brought. It wasn’t long before they heard a big noise and the pressure cooker exploded – corn and glass hit the ceiling and the book went flying. Daddy told her she better grab her book and leave, that Mama did just fine canning her own way. The woman quickly left and never came back.”

“Farm agents from the government office also came out trying to tell Daddy how to farm his land. He really didn’t have a choice, since he had bought his land through the government program, so he just stood back and listened, but then farmed like he wanted to when they left. One time when they came to check on his cotton fields, they told him he had planted too many acres; you were only allowed to plant so much. They made him pull up a few rows of cotton since he was over the limit. And they actually came back to check that it really was pulled up. They were strict back then on what you could and couldn’t plant and how much of each.”

“Did you know that it’s still against the law to plant cotton in your yard? Cotton is considered only a farm crop because it must be treated properly to keep the beetles from destroying the crop. That is one of the ways cotton was destroyed years ago in Greene County. The cotton beetles can spread quickly and ruin cotton crops for years until they are completely killed off.”

“Daddy grew regular corn and popcorn in the fields, but always separate. If you didn’t grow them away from each other, they’d mix together on the cob and the corn would be ruined. We put the cobs through the sheller in the barn to take the kernels off – then we popped them either in the fireplace or outside over a fire. When I was young, there was a sheller always on the back porch too. It was part of my job to put the dried corn cobs through to make feed for the chickens. I think he had one in the barn also, but someone stole it when I wasn’t living there anymore.”

“I don’t think I ever knew anything about New Years Eve as a day of celebrating when I was young. Back then, it wasn’t considered a special day. People then were only concerned where their next dollar was coming from to feed the family. It was just another work day.” When your daddy and I ran the clubs, we had parties there, but I never had anything at home.”

“I remember on Xmas Eve how Daddy would go up to the barn to get our box of goodies he had bought for us. Inside there would be apples, oranges, bananas, nuts and candy. Those items were a treat, as we only had them on special occasions. Sometimes he’d tease us about him not buying any, but before we knew it, he’d be back with that box. Leroy and I usually sat there and ate ourselves silly.”

I didn’t call Mama on New Years Eve (2008-2009) like I usually do as she had told me that she was going to her neighbor June’s house for a party. When I called her on New Years Day she told me, “I enjoyed myself over at June’s. She had picks and then we played a game called Bullshit poker – I won!” I  asked her to tell me about some of the New Year’s parties she and daddy went to. “When we ran the clubs, we had parties there, but nothing special – everyone just got drunk.”

“My father was a smart man even though he only had no more than a fourth-grade education, but he couldn’t read. Everything that came to the house and needed to be read, was read to him by my mother. I remember him sitting down as she read to him – as he was intent on every word and always understand what was read; he could sign his name though. I always thought of him as a very smart man.”

“I got pregnant with you on the trip we took to the mountains, maybe that’s why you like the mountains in Dahlonega so much. I remember trying to make myself “like” Mama Bryan while I was pregnant. It was always said that when you were pregnant, that if you didn’t like someone, your baby would look like that person. I didn’t want you to look like her, so I tried really hard to be friends with her during that time.”

When I called Mama tonight I asked her what she had for supper, and… “I had french toast again; I’m on a new kick, and until I tire of it, I’ll eat it for awhile with my egg McMuffin sandwich that I like to make. I used to like cornbread and buttermilk sometimes for supper, but now I haven’t had the desire for it in awhile. I wish I could have my turnip greens again, but I can’t as long as I’m taking Coumadin. I can have half a cup a day, but if I can’t eat as much as I want, then I just won’t eat any. You should like turnip greens as much as I ate of them when I was pregnant with you. I was always in Mr. Paul’s turnip patch. Actually I think I like collards more than turnip greens, they aren’t as bitter.  If you haven’t cooked fresh turnip greens, they’re easy. Wash them real good, then cut out the big stems that run up the middle of the leaf. Fill a pot with water and boil them just until the water turns a little green, then dump that out and fill it up again with fresh water and continue cooking. By dumping the first water out, it takes some of the bitter out. Add salt and pepper and a piece of fresh ham; I don’t like to use cured ham. Nothing is better than a big dish of turnip greens and cornbread. I need to stop talking about them, as I’m making myself hungry now. I like to eat, but my cooking days are over; I’m not going to spend a long time in the kitchen now preparing food – I only want to cook quick and easy, and mostly use the microwave if it’s possible. Gives me more time to go back and crawl in bed with my dish and find a good movie… Maybe the next time you come down though, I’ll cook you a pot of turnip greens and make you some cornbread. I think I used to have mashed potatoes with them too.”

“I remember making Divinity once for your daddy when I was going with him. I was probably about sixteen. I don’t remember who told me how to make it, as Mama had no recipes and had never made it, but she probably helped me, especially since I was in her kitchen. It came really good and he loved it. I never attempted to make it again though. I never really wanted to be a cook – I’d rather be in the yard following Daddy around or up in the car shed loft reading my True Romance magazine.”

“I liked to play doodle bug under daddy’s car shed. You’d find a hole that the doodle bug had gone in, take a small stick and make a circle with the stick in a circular path, saying “doodle bug, doodle bug, your house is on fire.” After several circles around he might come out of his hole. I also liked to play with sleepy vines. You’d run your hands on the leaves saying “go to sleep, go to sleep” and the leaves would close up. That was my entertainment.”

“I can’t follow a recipe – never could and never will. I can cook a pan of biscuits and cook fried chicken, but I can’t make sweets from a recipe. They never turn out for me. I just don’t like to follow written directions. I like to cook my own way and now that’s become hardly at all. If someone tells me to get in the kitchen and cook, I’ll tell them quickly…you just wait a minute.”

 I kept calling Mama after I sent her our Xmas present this year (2008) and finally it arrived, but she seemed more mad at me for sending her something, than happy about what she got. I  thought she’d be excited to get the jewelry armoire, as she had told me about the one she wanted to win in a raffle at FISH. She first told me she couldn’t put it together – and that’s from a woman who builds birdhouses and knows how to use a saw and hammer, and someone I thought could put anything together. I told her that I only thought she had to put the legs on and that there were doors on both sides to hang her necklaces on. She immediately told me that were was no doors on the sides! After looking online again at the piece, I asked her to try and see if she could open the doors, and that the picture showed that they were there. I didn’t want an argument, so I calmly persuaded her to try again – this time she quietly said, “oh, yes there are doors.” After she filled it up, her dilemma now was that she didn’t know where to put it. I told her, well, you’ll have to get rid of something. She quickly told me, “Oh no, I’m not getting rid of anything, I’ll find a place.”

I decided to send Mama a jewelry armoire after she told me about the one she saw at FISH and how much she really liked it. They were going to raffle it off – so I took a chance she wouldn’t win, and Stephen and Melissa went in with me to purchase it. But of course when the box arrived she said that I shouldn’t have spent my money. Once I told her it was from all of us, she settled down – and then I told her to just hush and enjoy it. After she found a place to put it, I think she enjoyed filling it up with some of her favorite jewelry pieces. She loves jewelry – no expensive pieces, as she says she’d lose it or forget where she put it. But she loves her costume jewelry. Take her somewhere, where there is a table of  costume pieces, and she can stand for hours looking – and she’ll usually come away with a new piece to add to her collection. She tells me constantly that one thing I’d better not sell when she dies is her jewelry, or she’ll haunt me. I’m suppose to put all her jewelry inside a big glass jar and keep it – as it will remind me of her. And believe me, I wouldn’t dare get rid of her jewelry – those are her treasures… And yes, I do believe she’d haunt me! It’s going to have to be a BIG jar to hold them all!

I received my new copy of Reminisce magazine today and in looking through the pages, I spotted a picture of a tablecloth on a table that had been crocheted in a pinwheel pattern. It was eerie looking at it, as it’s the exact pattern of the pinwheel crocheted bedspread Grandmamma McKinley made – and I have it. When I called Mama tonight I was telling her about the picture and… “My mama copied that pattern from looking at one someone had made. She probably brought one of the pinwheels home and made it by looking at it. She could not make anything from reading a pattern, but she could make anything by just looking at it. That is how she made all her quilts and how she crocheted.”

“I am the same way, I can’t follow a pattern – never could then, and still can’t now. But I can look at something and come home and make it – that’s if I really want to. I crafted flowers from nylon hose and screen wire when you were small. I boiled the nylon hose and that made them change to different colors. I made the flowers after seeing an arrangement someone had bought. You folded the wire to form a petal and pulled the hose in pieces over it and then twisted florist tape to secure the hose around the wire and continued wrapping the tape down to  add the leaves. I made a lot of them, but no one wanted to buy them, but they did want me to give them to them. I made everything by my own directions – I did as I went and made it fit. I could never follow written directions – but once I saw something, I’d come home and figure it out. Poodle dog covers over liquor bottles were popular when we were in Perry – I made several of them, but by my own way. I also made the Gone with the Wind type crocheted dolls that you sat in the middle of the toilet paper roll. I did everything just like my mother – my way. I made lots of crafts when you were young, but I don’t want to do anything like that now, except once in awhile. Remember when I made the peek a boo dolls that sit in the corner – I gave you one. I had saw one on TV, and said to myself,  I can make that, and I did. Then this year I helped the seniors make all those scarecrow people. Once in awhile I’ll get an urge to make something, but not often.”

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… #8

  1. Evelyn Smallwood Smith says:

    Arts and crafts must run in our family, except it bypassed my sister and me. My grandmother McKinley had this huge room upstairs in the house they lived in on Forsyth Street in Macon, Georgia. At least it was huge to me. She always kept the doors closed. That was her sewing room. She made clothes of all types and quilts. I have always wished I could make jeans like Mama but never could. Mother had made me this beautiful blue corduroy cape when I was in high school. Unfortunately, a few years later it was stolen. When I was living with Mama McKinley, they had left the house on Forsyth Street, she took the cape and attached the hood to it (Mother had made the hood separate). Mama McKinley promptly set to making me another one, only the one she made was a soft green plaid. Beautiful. I still like capes, hooded or not.
    I had to make an outfit in Home Economics class, so Mother and I went shopping. I chose this jumper and we chose a heavy duck fabric. Lay, cut, sew, iron the seams open and continue. Oh, did I say iron seams open? Wrong fabric. Not to mention there were few if any fabrics back then that didn’t need ironing. I never want another piece of duck fabric near me. Oh, it is easy to work with, durable and comfortable but where does that smell come from? That was the most horrid smell I think I’d ever smelled. Mother agreed. She even went so far as to make me a hat and shoulder bag to match. I kept the hat and bag for years but not the outfit. Not sure what Mother and I did with it but you can bet we never wanted to iron that horrid thing again. By the way, I made an A+ in my class.
    Mama McKinley was such a good seamstress that she made all my outfits for my Senior events. Aunt Laura sent her my sizes from Alabama, gave Mama ideas of what I was looking for and I received my outfits. Perfect fit.
    I don’t recall Mama McKinley doing crochet or knitting or stuff. I don’t ever remember seeing her do needle point either. Mother did needlepoint from time to time. Dresser scarves, pillow covers, etc.
    There was this one year we were going to Alabama for Christmas and stopped by Mama McKinley’s before leaving. I was freezing when I walked in the door. Mama asked me why was I so cold and I told her the heater went out in that old truck. She went upstairs, got me this lap quilt she wasn’t quite done with (I finished it later), grabbed some grocery sacks and gave them to me. She said put a sack inside one, put a set over each foot, then wrap put the quilt over me. It worked, it really worked. Of course, when we got to Alabama, Aunt Laura made my husband repair that truck. Anyway, for many years I kept those sacks in the truck and dared anyone to throw them out. And yes, I said sack, that was before plastic bags in the stores.
    Mother loved jewelry, too. She had a lot of that costume jewelry. I’m not shy about my love of jewelry, either. Mother had this jewelry armoire, sounds like the one you got your mother, and it was full at one point. I have one on a much smaller scale. I enjoyed going through Mother’s jewelry, she had some really nice pieces, even if most of them were costume. Me? I am a jewelry nut but more of a shoe horse and clothes horse. I don’t make as many clothes as I once did but that sure doesn’t stop me from being a looker. I use to love taking Mother with me to shop for clothes. She could at least confirm if certain things went together or not. We had some good times shopping together a few years back.
    As for crafts, Mama McKinley wasn’t one to do those but Mother did. She made everyone a stuffed cat one year, sock dolls for all the kids and so much more. She didn’t throw out anything, towel rolls, plastic jugs, pringles canisters, all sorts of things. She could think of all kinds of things she could make with this or that and she a real nice job with her ideas. She loved making things for the grandchildren. Mother also made doll clothes. That takes patience I don’t have.
    I can sew when necessary. I can make outfits with a machine and the like but I’m not crafty like my mother.
    Reading must have been passed through the generations as well and that did see its way to my sisters and me. Give me a good book, then leave me alone.
    My brothers can draw and I have a couple of their old ones. Me? I wish I could draw in 3-D but never got the knack.
    I like the idea of those peek-a-boo dolls but not so sure about having them around. I’d be looking down the hall or something and see one, then I’d be headed in the opposite direction.
    I’ve never been afraid of being by myself. I could always find something to keep me busy, besides by the time I was old enough to be left, my brothers had taught me how to shoot pretty well. I would say, I can shoot straight if I don’t have to shoot far but I believe I can shoot better than that. There have been a few times I was at home when we lived in Courtland, Alabama, while Mother and Bob went shopping in Decatur. One night I was watching a movie, for the life of me I can’t remember the title but I remember some of the movie, I was sitting in my grandmothers rocking chair (I still have that chair), when I heard something upstairs. I went up there and there was this man standing outside the attic and he wouldn’t tell me what he was doing or how he got into the house. Well, I guess he pissed me off by not answering me because I let loose with two shots (I grabbed my brothers .22 on my way upstairs). About that time, my brothers came running into the house, calling me and asking what was going on. The only thing they saw was me holding the .22 and a couple of holes in the door jam of the attic. My brother took the .22 and they got what they had returned home for and left. He forgot about the shotgun, which I got and laid it across the chair so I could finish watching my movie. Mother and Bob came home and Bob startled me when he came in and asked me what I was watching. I jumped up, snapped the shotgun closed, while he is standing there, backing up saying, Wait, it’s me. No, I didn’t fire. He lived.
    I consider myself a pretty good cook but never really learned to make candies and such. I can make peanut brittle, pralines and a few petite fours but nothing fancy. Maybe because Mama McKinley, nor Mother ever made anything like that. Actually, I don’t recall Mama McKinley ever making anything other than cakes, pies and some cookies.
    Yes, I guess some things do pass from generation to generation without much notice. We also have more in common with our parents and other relatives without really knowing it.


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