My mother's family is spread over
and along the West Virginia/Maryland border. Most of them were farmers
and miners, until my generation; we've all spread in every direction,
vocationally and geographically.
I was practically raised by my maternal
grandmother and my mother's two youngest sisters. My Granny's name was
Cora. She looked like anybody's grandmother, dressed in long dress,
always with an apron. Her hair, a million shades of gray, was pulled
up in a bun, and she would have made a good Mrs. Claus. I saw that bun
undone only twice in all those years, both times in the middle of the
night, when she had to come in the room because I was sick or some such.
I never knew her to be sick. When I was little, say five, I realized
that my grandmother always had, and always would, smell like cookies.
Every summer until I was thirteen
was spent on my grandparents' farm. They raised chickens and sold the
eggs, and to a lesser degree, the chickens. All holidays were spent
there. EVERYBODY came "up home" for the holidays.
Granny's kitchen was big as three
normal living rooms. There was no running water, just a cold sink. There
was a pump on the porch, and a spring house just across the lane from
the house. The first thing that grabbed you as you came in the door
was this HUGE, black wood-burning stove. What a monster. When we were
"little," this was our favorite winter place to play, in the
space between the stove and the wall.
Granny worked what I still consider
to be small miracles with that big old iron stove. How she controlled
her temp. in that oven, just by pouring a little water into a small
compartment in the outer wall, in my view ranks right up there with
brain surgery. When I was about four or five, all her children kicked
in and bought and installed her a range. She used the oven that day,
but I don't think that stove ever got used again, except to hold a lot
of non-cooking items.
Only the kitchen was wired for electricity;
it was coal oil lamps in the rest of the house. That stove was the primary
heat source in cold weather, that, and a coal pot-belly in the living
room. Upstairs, you slept between blankets, not sheets, on a straw mattress
if you were a kid, a down one if you were an adult.
I loved being at Granny's. I got
to eat really neat stuff, like venison, squirrel, wild greens, big,
round loaves of bread. Granny utilized a lot of the things nature provided.
There was a walnut tree halfway out toward the "hard" road
that gave us some great snack items every year. I was a great walnut
picker. Granny had a small assortment of shoemaker's tools that were
perfect for getting at the meat.
There was plenty of canning happening
almost all the time, as things came to maturity. And every Sunday, I
would help granny put down four chickens or so, which would go for Sunday
dinner, and maybe a soup for later in the week. By age ten, I had learned
to appreciate the many manifestations of a chicken carcass I also learned
very early on that, a chicken doesn't need a head to still run around
Granny never worked with complete
recipes. She didn't use measuring spoons - she used the cup of her hand.
She had a regimen, Monday wash day, etc. to Friday, which was baking
day. On Friday, I hung about, but I didn't learn a thing... except a
pavlovian lesson or two.
I inherited her six cigar boxes
of hand-written recipes. I almost always have to flesh out a "procedure"
paragraph when I type up one of her gems. I must have a reasonable handle
on that; the recipes always seem to work, somehow.
When Granny died, her obituary listed
128 great grandchildren.
End Part One.
here to read part two