2017 – A to Z… C: Conversations with Mama… The Best of!
I married and moved away from home when I was 19, so I didn’t grow up stopping by Mama’s for afternoon chats. Living almost a thousand miles from home, a nightly phone call is how I stayed in touch, as she’s gotten older, it’s how I check in on her. As I became involved in researching my family history, it was often how I heard the family stories. I recorded the usual dates and names, but all the tidbits of family stories…. well where was I going to put them. That was how Conversations with Mom evolved, and I eventually blogged those conversations. What better choice, than to glean an A to Z of my favorites here to celebrate Mama’s birthday month; she turns a spry 87 this April, but “mums” the word on me spilling her birthday number here!
During the month of April, I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge for my 2nd year… both on this blog. I will post each day, except Sundays… using a daily alphabet letter in my theme of “Conversations with Mom… The Best of.” If you’d like to read more blogs, hop over to their Facebook page.
C… Conversations with Mama – The Best of!
C is for Clothes, Cemeteries, Church, Clyde the Alligator, Cooking and Cake… Mama’s favorite
Clothes: “I’m going to be the “Lady in red” tomorrow at the senior center. I was just laying out all my clothes and accessories in the back room. I’m going to wear a red top with blue jeans, a vest, my Ga. Bulldog flip-flops, a red purse, and some red jewelry. I’ll be all decked out to strut my stuff!”
“When I was a young girl on the farm I liked to dress up with my mother’s old clothes I found in her closet. She had a skinny flapper-style dress with a hat that she wore pulled down to the side. I loved those clothes! When I watch one of my favorite movies “Oh Brother Where Art Thou with George Clooney – the clothes the women wore always reminds me of my mother’s dress-up clothes. I never saw her wear the dress or the hat, but it always was in the hallway closet. I loved playing dress-up and wearing the hat pulled down to the side – slicked down to my head just like she told me she wore it. She told me they were hers and had to have been from the 1920’s; I guess it was a flapper-style dress. Maybe it was the dress she got married in, but she never said. I don’t know whatever happened to it, but I sure wish it had been saved.”
“I remember my mother wearing an apron daily – from the time she got up in the morning,…the apron went on. Back then all women wore aprons, it kept their clothes clean as they worked and you always had a place to wipe your hands. There were no paper towels to use like today. They did have kitchen towels, but the apron was always handy. I never wore an apron and never will.”
When I called tonight, Mama said. “I’m beginning to feel like the old woman who lived in the house with too many clothes and didn’t know what to do. I don’t want to get rid of any of my clothes as I might want to wear them again, but I have clothes everywhere; the back bedroom has become my walk-in closet. I seem to have clothes all over the house lately and it’s depressing me. The back room is full of clothes, shoes, and pocketbooks…. nothing that I want to get rid of right now.”
Cemeteries: While talking about cemeteries tonight, mama told the story about Aunt Chris’s sister in law. “One day when Aunt Chris’s sister-in-law was at her house, they all walked down to the cemetery… and before leaving, she leaned down and picked up a seashell off a grave. They all warned her that it was bad luck to remove anything from the cemetery, but she laughed. That night, somehow, she got her head stuck in between the headboard metal bars of her bed. The next morning Aunt Chris’s sister-in-law walked back, first thing before breakfast, to the cemetery and put that seashell back from where she took it, and never did it again – she was really spooked! It was funny to us, but she never ever wanted to talk about it again.”
We headed to Sparta today…. I had churches and cemeteries I wanted to visit and had plans to meet up with a new cousin I met on the Sparta FaceBook group – she was the editor of the local newspaper and married to a cousin I never knew, or had ever met. We first stopped at Antioch Church – I’ve never been by there before, but had seen many talk about it online; it’s in the process of being restoring. While Steve and I walked around the church, finally going inside (yay it was open) mama looked around outside. Hubby enjoyed looking under the church at how it was built and supported by foundation rocks piled to support the building – so strange to see these old buildings still standing with the same rocks still supporting. They still hold service sporadically (it said) and we even found a collection basket with money – we also left money; so I guess I can say we went to church today! I love finding these old churches open so I can walk inside – my ancestors in Hancock County, GA. most likely sat in these very pews – if only I could turn back the hands of time! As I’m walking back to the car I see Mama with something in her hand… “I took a cutting from the rose bushes over there, they won’t mind.” Then she’s brushing off the bottom of her pants… “we used to call these things ‘beggar lice’ when I was a kid.” I looked down at my pants and they were on me too… they weren’t really ‘lice’, but tiny oblong pieces of grass that pops up on you as you walk, and they actually attach to clothing or anything that the little grabbers can attach to – they were even on my shoelaces. They were very annoying, and I had to literally pull each one off, as I didn’t want to bring them in the house. So all three of us stood there picking “beggar lice” off our clothes!
Church: “They had an “Amen” corner in the church we belonged to in Siloam. When I was little, I remember that every time the preacher preached certain words, the men would say “amen.”
“Yes, the house I was married in, is still standing. It belonged to the preacher and was next to the church where Aunt Chris is buried; the house and church are between Siloam and Greensboro. The woman preacher who married us also preached in that church. I don’t know how or why we went there, maybe it was a spur of the moment as your father was home from the Navy that weekend and I think another week following. She also married my girlfriend Willie Mae; I stood up for them there, maybe that’s why I went there too. When you come down, we will stop and you can take a photograph of the house.”
I began telling mama about the twins and how they are learning to say grace before dinner. Ella (the oldest at 6) says the prayer and they sit there with their hands together and then say “amen”. “That’s so sweet, they need to learn to pray and go to church when they are small. Once they grow up, then they can make up their own mind at what they want to do; my Daddy took me to church when I was small. He didn’t really like to go to church, as he said the same people who went to church on Sunday often did bad on Monday.”
Clyde… the alligator: I began telling mama tonight that my friend at work calls her, “Driving Miss Daisy” and how I told her the story of Clyde the Alligator. Laughing she said, “Oh, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about Clyde. Yea I used to tell the men at work… “sure you can come visit me at the farm, we’ll walk down to the pond in the moonlight and stand by the pond looking up at the moon. Then when we turn to walk back to the house, I’ll hear …slurp… and old Clyde will have come up behind us and “whoosh”… another man gone! I remember the guys would fall over laughing whenever I told that story to someone who never heard it before… as they knew what was coming.”
Cooking: “When my mother made pear preserves she cut the pears into thick slices and put them in the cooking pot between layers of sugar. She liked to let them sit overnight before cooking the next morning. She’d cook the pear slices down until they were soft, thick, and candy-like. She always kept a crock of them sitting on the kitchen counter; that was considered candy to us. We had pear trees in the field – everything we ate basically came from our land; the pear trees are still standing in the field today.”
“My daddy ate possum, squirrel, and doves, and probably would have eaten a bear if the opportunity was there. One time this possum often came to the back door to get the bread I put out nightly for him. I remember mama cooking possum once, but I didn’t want any, thinking it was that possum! When I moved back to the farm to take care of daddy, I came home one night to find the doves he’d shot in the yard. He’d thrown out corn in the yard, then sat quietly with his rifle waiting… I cleaned and cooked them for him, but I didn’t really want any. I remember him and Leroy putting out rabbit boxes in the woods… another meat I didn’t want any part of. They came into the yard too – they ate the apples that fell off the horse apple tree.
“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 it’s 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, 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, and 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!”
Cake: When I called tonight, in asking mama about my BB gun I had at the farm and if she ever shot a BB gun when she was young… “Yes, I shot Leroy’s BB gun at the farm… I remember shooting the eyes out of the doll I had. I really should have been a boy, whatever Leroy did, I wanted to do.” Then I asked about birthdays… “My parents never mentioned anything about birthdays, they were never mentioned and there was never a cake. It was just another day. I never gave much thought to when my birthday even was… in school, nothing was said. Some kids had parties, but more the city kids whose parents had money.”
“Our desserts were cornbread and buttermilk after dinner, or a left-over biscuit sopping up sorghum syrup; mama made teacakes and pies but not often. When I came home from school there was usually a baked sweet potato sitting on the back of her stove… that was my treat! I’d grab that potato and enjoy it out on the stoop!”
“When Daddy ground the wheat at the mill, he saved the bran flour for the dogs and we ate the white flour. He took the bran and made hoecakes for the dogs – we should have been eating the bran and giving the dogs the white, but who knew back then.”
“I might try doing that as I really want some cornbread, but I’ve never heard of it before. Maybe I’ll make Johnny cakes instead of the cornbread. You just fry them up on a griddle pan. My mama used to make them a lot instead of cornbread. It’s the same type of mixture but you make them on the griddle like a pancake.”
First thing mama said tonight when I called was … “My package came today and I’ve already had a piece – I love the banana cake with the chocolate chips in it; you know I love anything with chocolate. I think I’ll go get a piece with a cup of coffee when I hang up with you.”
My mother grew up on a small farm in Georgia and has more memories of her childhood than I can only dream to remember. If you’d like to follow along from day 1, click on 2017: A to Z… Conversations with Mama – The Best of!
© 2017, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved