Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Of Summer Days and Memories

Some of my favorite memories from my childhood are connected to one place; my Grandma's house. Actually we called her Mawmaw and her house was actually the house she had grown up in from the time she was very young. In the early 1900's my great-grandpa and great-grandma moved to a community that would later be known as Reids community, or Blackjack. They bought around 140 acres that had three houses on it. They lived in one of the houses while they worked on another one. After a time they moved into the big house at the curve.

For most of my growing up years we lived on part of what was originally some of the family land that had been sold to other family members. My parents bought a piece of it back from an uncle. Then again later in my life, my husband and I bought an acre of land from a cousin and we lived there for several years. So my kids, the girls, were the fifth generation of my family to have lived on the land.

As a child, I ran and romped all over from one end to the other; through the woods, across the fields and down to the creek bank. I picked flowers, climbed trees, crawled through hay bales in the barn and picked vegetables from the gardens. We rode bikes up and down the county lane, played on the tractor and learned how to drive in Uncle Ford's truck. We were country kids who were carefree and played from sun up to sun down. We swam in the creek and rode on the tail gate of pickup trucks, and jumped from the tops of the barn. Some how we all survived.

My mom grew up in that house and in her time it was unpainted. But for as long as I can remember it was painted green. The porch ran the length of the front and was a place that welcomed visitors. There was a large tree that shaded the porch and the roots spread out across that half of the yard. On the other side, was a Camellia bush. Which was much more like a tree than a bush. It had the prettiest pink flowers that we always loved to pick. I remember breaking off a handful and bringing them in and Mawmaw would put them into an old mason jar and set them in the windowsill or on the table.

My grandma was always in the kitchen either cooking or cleaning up after a meal. Every Sunday the family would gather there after church and eat and visit. Often times the pastor and his family would come to eat and there would be other cousins and family members and neighbors dropping in for coffee and a visit. There was always a pot of coffee for the adults and a pitcher of cool-aid for the kids. The coffee was Community dark roast and the cool-aid was usually grape flavored. There was always something good from the garden to eat. One of our childhood favorites was what we called Mawmaw beans and rice. It was actually lima beans but because Mawamaw cooked them, we called them Mawmaw beans. We would often add ketchup to the beans and rice and it was delicious.

Another wonderful memory was going to Mawmaw's on Saturday morning early and helping her make biscuits. She would give me a piece of dough so I could roll my own. We would put them in a pan and cook them along side hers. But somehow mine never turned out as good as hers did. I loved nothing better that to eat those hot biscuits with cold Steen's Cane syrup. It came in a yellow can and tasted like heaven on earth. I would pour some onto a plate and it would slowly fill the middle of the plate. Then break a piece of the biscuit off and drag it across the bottom of the plate, loading it with that thick, cold syrup. By the time you finished your fingers were sticky and syrup dripped down your arms. She would also cook bacon, not the kind of bacon you buy in the store these days, but thick, fatty pieces of bacon. The left overs would sit in a pan on the stove all day and if you were lucky you could come in later after being outside playing and sneak a piece of that cold bacon. It was delicious even when it was cold and hours old. Sometimes we would take a piece of it and put it on a string and go down to the creek bank and use the bacon to catch crawfish. I can remember a few times bringing back a few small crawfish and Mawmaw would put some butter in a skillet and fry up the crawfish for us to eat. Of course they were usually so tiny that you really only got a taste of them, but it was great, because we had caught them ourselves.

There were many days after the garden came in that we would all sit around on the front porch, to catch a breeze, and shell peas or beans. We would have a dish pan in our laps with a bucket filled with whatever happened to be ready that morning sitting on the porch at our feet. We had a ball just sitting there together seeing who could shell the most. Kids today just don't realize what they are missing out on. I wouldn't trade any of those times for all of the electronic gadgets that my kids have today. There was nothing like it.

Long hot summer days spent down at the creek, swimming with cousins and neighbor kids. Swinging from the rope that someone had hung from a tree in the deep part of the creek. Sitting on the log that had fallen across one end of the swimming hole, running down the sand bank splashing into the creek for the first time; wonderful memories fresh in my mind as though I did them just yesterday.

Often times we would have a watermelon floating in the water to chill and someone would use their pocket knife to cut it open and cut off pieces to pass around. The taste of that cold melon, the feel of the creek water and the sound of squeals and laughter; pieces of a happy childhood that I wish I could bottle and keep forever. I can remember riding in the back of Uncle Ford's pickup wet from swimming, the hot sun and summer wind drying me as we headed back up the road to Mawmaw's house. There we would often be greeted by the smells of the big Bar-b-Que grill that sat in the back yard by the car shed. Uncle Ford would be standing there with his little mop, mopping his homemade Bar-b-Que sauce onto the meat. If I close my eyes, I can smell it now.

His grill was a huge metal barrel looking thing that had been hand fashioned and welded onto a base of four legs and had a large smoke pipe coming from the side. It has long been left to sit unused for many years now. In 1986 Uncle Ford was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and passed away in 1995. The bar-b-ques that he use to host are only memories of those who were blessed enough to be a part of the family or the community. But when I sit very still and quiet, I can close my eyes and visualize it all again. I can smell the smoky smell of the grill, and I can taste his bar-b-que sauce.

A couple of years ago, after my grandma passed away, I begin to remember little pieces of yellowed paper that she would keep stuffed here or there in her kitchen. Some were in a small box that she kept in her pie safe in the dining room. These pieces of paper were recipes that she had written down through the years. So I had my mom, who still lives just down the road, start going through her things to find the recipe for Uncle Ford's famous bar-b-que sauce. She searched and went through things a little at a time until one day she happened upon the recipe. It is written on a piece of notebook paper. Yellowed and spotted by age, written in pencil. The handwriting is the familiar script of my grandma.

As I sit and hold this recipe in my hands I am taken back to a place, down a country road and around the big curve, right back into the 1960'and 70's. The memories of good times, simple times when people didn't have much, but were rich just the same. When love, family and community was everything. The pace was slow and easy, people were warm and genuine. The air was cleaner and water was purer, and life was good.

After all the complaining about the winter weather, summer will be upon us before we know it. I am making plans to plant some vegetables in a raised bed and I am getting ready to prepare the grill for summer cooking. Now that I have Uncle Ford's Bar-b-Que sauce recipe I am going to cook up a large batch to keep on hand for those summer evenings when for a few moments I can conjure up some long held memories of another place and another time. In a small way, I can share with my kids a piece of the past, a part of their family history. A time when days were long and carefree and the world was a much friendlier place for kids to live.


cd said...

Can I have a copy?

dlynthomas said...

Sure, I will scan it and email a copy to you tomorrow.

Gwen Huggs said...

Dee Dee i remember all the fun we had also at grandma Oneals and Aunt Eritte and Uncle Fords,the creek,,swimming,,,driving uncle fords car and truck,,,shelling peas on the porch,,running and playing everywhere,,walking to dave Hills store,,playing under the house,,mud pies,,and playing in the barn,jumping in the hay,,,helping aunt eritte milk suzie the cow!,never did get that squeeze right,,ha,,we help gather eggs,,,do u remember the smoke House?,,I can still smell all that meat,yum,,and I remember me and Lynn helped Uncle Ford Bar-b-que,,and we were bringing Big pan of meat in,and dropped it right in the dirt,,Unlce Ford as kind as always,,,said I will just say it is salt if anyone says its gritty,,so sweet,,Please send me his recipe for sauce,,so I can fix it and have part of him with me,,,now if i could master grandma and aunt erittes Biscuits!!,,,i love all your Blogs,,,thanks for helping me remember all over again,,,,,,,,love u lots,Gwen

dlynthomas said...

I do remember the smoke house. I don't know if they still used it as one, but seems like I do remember meat hanging in it. But that would have been when I was very young. But that smell stayed in it for years.
Those were wonderful years! I wish I had more photos from all those times. Things change so much but sometimes I can sit down and close my eyes and I am transported back and can see, hear and smell just what it was like. I still want to get that journal started and pass to everyone to share their memories of growing up part of the O'Neal clan. I have the journal and started on it, but got side tracked with the move last year and life...maybe that is something I can work on this summer.

Anonymous said...

I remember the house you describe. When I was about 10, I remember going to visit your grandma, your mom and your aunt. I remember sitting on the porch in the evening listening to Uncle Ford tell scary stories (and slapping at mosquitos). As the story got scarier and scarier, my sister and I'd scoot closer and closer to the adults....


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