One of my earliest memories is peeling apples in my grandmother’s kitchen. This is also one of my happiest and warmest memories! No room in the house was short on love, but this was where she spent most of her time. She had some wonderful recipes, but nothing will ever taste as good as when she cooked it. Her whole house was spun with magic. I can remember every aspect of it with great clarity even though it’s been gone since around Thanksgiving of 1967. We lived on 82nd Street and Division Avenue in East Lake until the “Great Freeway” moved us out and tore everything down. It lives on in my memory and in the memories of all who loved it. My dreams transport me there regularly.
My mother and daddy, two brothers and I lived next door to my grandparents and Mother’s three sisters. All of us, along with some of the neighbors, moved between our houses like one big family. In the summer, we spent evenings under the big oak tree. We barbequed and made ice cream talking into the night when it would be a little cooler in the house. Two of my aunts married when I was young and moved to Georgia, but came back often. We had huge Christmas celebrations together and never seemed to get tired of each other. At least the children didn’t! My Aunt Lora didn’t marry until I was almost out of high school. She had an extra long time to spoil us!
We didn’t sit around the television except in the coldest part of the winter. We played games outside until they made us come in. It was such a simple, special time when parents didn’t have to worry about children being outside alone and the children never even thought of being scared. No computer games, remote controlled cars or dolls that talked, just a lot of imagination and energy. It is amazing that we had so much fun at so little expense.
I remember when I had my first pizza at the age of ten. It was from Carnaggio’s on 77th Street and 1st Avenue, North and it was wonderful. My baby brother’s face would be covered in pizza sauce. Our first fast food hamburgers came from McDonald’s in Roebuck. We couldn’t afford them very often and could choose between two hamburgers or one and an order of fries. My grandmother kept little bottles of Coca Cola for when her stomach was upset and would let us have one occasionally. My daughters look at me in wonder when I tell them these things. Could there be such a thing as a day without sodas and fast food?
Yes, the good times really were when we had less and did more. We were a close family and close neighborhood and I miss it, but I’ll always REMEMBER!
This is a picture of my mother, (on the left), her three sisters and my grandparents. The picture was taken sometime in the mid 60's at my aunt's house where she was hosting a family reunion/Christmas party. We were dressed up and everything! Of course, since I wrote this everyone is gone except two of my aunts. Memories as so precious.
My mother was the most wonderful cook. Not the gourmet type like my brother - the Southern type. She always made things so special, most of the time working with very little. I can remember racing through my first helping of my favorite food in order to beat my brother to the one remaining helping. We all had our favorites and she did her best to see that we got them as often as possible. Some nights it was cornbread and milk. We thought this a special treat, but really it was all she had. That’s how she worked her magic. She made us think we were eating like royalty. She always had supper ready when Daddy got home from work and the five of us sat down to the table and ate together. I know that sounds like a foreign concept, but we didn’t even think about sitting in front of the television. We talked about our days, our hopes and dreams and our problems. My brother told funny stories and made us laugh until we cried. They started out being real stories and escalated according to our response. If we thought it was funny, it got funnier. Mother encouraged this, even though Daddy thought we should be quiet and mannerly at the table. She knew these special times wouldn’t last and wanted to make the most of them. That’s my theory anyway.
She cooked a variety of meals through the week, and then on Friday we always came home to vegetable soup. It was very good, but came at a high price. She would clean out the refrigerator of the week’s leftovers. Food wasn’t the only thing left over – the sink would be running over with bowls and storage containers. I had to wash the dishes and my brother had to dry them. We alternated washing and drying a week at a time. We couldn’t be in the kitchen together because we fought like cats and dogs. The one washing would fill up the drainer with dishes and leave the kitchen so the other one could dry them. Mother tried to get Daddy to let her do them herself so she wouldn’t have to listen to the arguing, but he insisted we had to learn. I know he was right, but she wanted everything to be happy and quiet. Not necessarily in that order. On Sunday morning, we woke up to the smell of coffee, bacon, eggs, grits and homemade biscuits. She had a round, wooden bread bowl especially for making biscuits. She poured in flour, salt and baking powder and then made a hole in the center for the shortening and buttermilk. She stood there working the shortening and buttermilk together with one hand and then started to pull in the flour a little bit at a time, turning the bowl as she went. She never measured anything – she just “knew” when it was right. It amazes me to this day. She taught me how to do it and I can make pretty good biscuits. They will, however, never measure up to the ones she made. Lest I ever forget this, all I have to do is serve one to my dad and he will set me straight. “These are all right, but not like your mother’s.”
Holiday meals were spectacular. By the time she teamed up with my grandmother, who lived next door to us, there was a wondrous variety of delicious dishes. Meats, vegetables, casseroles, breads, and desserts of every variety were there to tempt us. It was impossible to sample everything, especially at Christmas. They would work for days baking cakes and pies and making several different candies. We ate until we could eat no more then put the cold dishes in the refrigerator and covered the rest with a clean table cloth so we could help ourselves when it was time for the next meal. Imagine, food left out from lunch to supper time and not one of us got food poisoning.
Mother’s cakes were always highly sought after – at home, school and church. There would always be coconut, chocolate, lemon cheese, fruit cake and spice cake with maple frosting and pecans all over the top and sides. This spice cake was probably the most popular at our bake sales at school. Everyone would be waiting for Mother to walk in the door to see what she had made. Sometimes they would set a price on the cake and it was always the first to go. Other times, they used it for a prize in the cake walk. That was probably the most profitable cake walk in history.
Around 25 years ago, Daddy had two mild heart attacks. Then along came diabetes for both of them. Daddy says they ruined a good cook. It is hard to change a life time of habits and recipes. She tried, but it just wasn’t the same. No salt, no fat, no anything that tasted good. We still had special holiday meals and just tried to be more sensible. Then we paid for it when we failed. Don’t let them fool you. It’s not just the turkey that makes you sleepy, it’s the volume of food consumed.
Mother has been unable to cook for a number of years now. Even from her wheelchair, she would pull up to the sink and make fig preserves, which none of us needed but could not refuse. She cooked like this as long as she could. It was probably the hardest thing she had to give up. The last thing she made in this kitchen was pear honey. I’m hording it and the last fig preserves for as long as they will last without going bad. I just can’t stand the thought of being without Mother’s cooking in my pantry. They have cooking classes at the nursing home periodically. At first, Mother refused to attend. With a lot of coaxing they have got her going occasionally, when Daddy is at dialysis. This, and other activities, is so important to the residents. Most of them, like Mother, have spent their lives caring for husbands and families. Even if the cooking consists of something very simple like assembling tacos after the meat has been cooked and the vegetables cut up, it is a vital activity that allows them a sense of accomplishment. Whether or not they manage to actually contribute to the cooking isn’t the most important thing. Each person reacts in their own way - they take what they need in their hearts and minds. It might be just a taco to eat, exercise for their crippled hands, social interaction, mental stimulation or the remembering of a sweeter time when they could provide for their loved ones and know the joy of making the best cakes in the county.
I love to cook and think my mother and grandmother taught me well. At the same time, I have no delusions that I’m as good as Mother was and would still be if her body hadn’t betrayed her. I am so thankful that I still have her to advise me. I remember for months after my grandmother died in 1976, Mother would start to call her to ask how to do something. She would sometimes get as far as dialing the number before she realized those days were gone. We would both have a good cry and then do the best we could to prepare the dish. Somehow, nothing ever tastes as good as your own mother’s cooking.
Where did you spend your Saturdays growing up? Watching cartoons, playing outside, doing chores in the house or yard? I did all of those things on a regular basis, especially in the summer when we really had to work outside. There were, however, those very special Saturdays when my Aunt Lora took me to town for part or all of the day. She was unmarried, lived at home and I was the first grandchild in the family. Need I say more?
The best part of downtown for me was Loveman’s Department Store. I thought of it then as a fairytale place and still do today. I know we always remember things as being bigger and better than they were, but I think my memories are pretty accurate on this one.
I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is the white marble or tile floor as you came into the store. This is where the ladies accessories, (purses, gloves, scarves, etc.) were. So many beautiful things in every color. Also, the cosmetics and men’s furnishings were on the First Floor. In the Southwest corner on this floor was a very special counter. The candy. They had the most delicious candy; divinity, fudge and chocolate covered everything you ever tasted. I’m sure my hips are still wearing some of these delights.
There were steps up to the Mezzanine or you could take the elevator, complete with an operator. This was the location of the cafeteria and the beauty shop. I remember the escalator ride up to the other floors. It was always a thrill of anticipation waiting to get to the top and see what had changed since you had been there last. The second floor had ladies shoes and the fur salon. When I started work out of high school, I walked to Loveman’s one day and, for the first time, bought a pair of shoes with my own money. They were patent leather heels in red and white. Oh, how I loved those shoes. On the floor with the ladies clothes were sales ladies ready and waiting to help you with your selections and in the fitting room. Some of them had their own, special customers and didn’t want anyone else to wait on them. You never had to look for assistance – they were always there.
As everyone who grew up here knows, Christmas was the most glorious time downtown and Loveman’s won the grand prize. All of the windows on the first floor had animated figures in different scenes. They were beautifully done and I never wanted to leave them, except to see Santa Claus on the toy floor. That was a wonderland also. Santa was always at Loveman’s. I remember when Roebuck Shopping Center was built and had “Santa’s helper” at Christmas. I knew it had to be Santa’s helper because everyone knew Santa was at Loveman’s.
Of course, my mind can in no way name the contents of all the floors. Each of you may remember things very differently. They had everything you could possible want and we usually brought more than our share home with us. I was very blessed to have an unmarried aunt with a good job. My parents could never have given me these things or the other experiences she and I shared.
Sometimes we ate in the store, but we really liked to go to Britling’s a couple of blocks away. We would carry all the packages unless we had gotten a parking place where we could leave them in the car. Britling’s was a very interesting, fun place also. I seem to remember it being white and there was a chrome railing around the line. It was always crowded with shoppers and kind of loud. I really had a thing for potatoes – all kinds of potatoes. Aunt Lora would buy very little for herself because she knew she would end up eating what I left – mashed potatoes, French fries, etc. and some kind of meat and dessert.
On really special Saturdays, we would then go to the Alabama Theatre for a movie. What a wonderful place it was and still is today. I am so thankful that it has been saved for all of us who love it so and have so many fond memories. So many gold colored lights outside and the beautiful, brass edged doors – red velvet everywhere and white tile in the Ladies' Lounge. We always sat in the left wing of the balcony. It was fun to sit by the rail and look over at the people on the first floor. I loved to look at the private boxes with curtains and imagine kings, queens or presidents in them.
Sometimes we would go there first thing in the morning to see the Mickey Mouse Club. There would be cartoons, Zorro movies and, occasionally, Cousin Cliff. I can’t leave here without mentioning that magnificent Wurlitzer organ. How blessed we are to still have it.
Yesterday I received a call from a childhood friend. We went all the way through school together, from 1st grade through 12th. We have one of those relationships that endure the years no matter how long it is between conversations. Each time we speak I’m transported back in time to East Lake. Her grandmother lived in the next block to ours. Her mother was one of the few of our generation who worked outside the home so Barbara came to her grandmother’s house after school. We walked home together and played at one house or the other. Usually her grandmother’s as there were no little brothers there to interfere.
Barbara had a female dachshund named Sausage. Sounds better than wienie. She was transported for babysitting just like Barbara was. Grandmother Tucker took care of everyone. We all loved that dog so much. She met us at the door and played right along with us. Until… one day she was under the living room sofa. Well, part of her was under the sofa. You know how animals are – if their head is hidden, they are hidden. She had her tail sticking out and I backed up and stepped on it. For some reason, she reacted differently to me after that. She would meet Barbara at the front screen, sitting up on her haunches so she could see out. When she saw me, she turned around and made sure her whole body was under the sofa.
Grandmother Tucker’s house was a treasure trove. There weren’t a lot of toys. We didn’t need them. Under the same living room sofa was a box of little, glass bottles and some other trinkets that escape my memory. For some reason, I remember the little brown glass bottles well. We never seemed to tire of playing with these things and others that I’ve forgotten. The house was full of antique furniture. There was a big, oak dining room table and a little table in the kitchen. The back bedroom belonged to a boarder. She was an older lady who gave piano lessons. I think she had been a teacher. She was a little bit crippled and walked with a cane. I remember her always being well dressed, usually in a dark color.
The whole house was sort of dark and cool. There were, and still are, a lot of trees in the yard which gave great shade. They also made those little seed pods we called helicopters. We gathered them up and threw them as high as possible so we could watch them whirl their way back down. It was so much easier to entertain children back then.
We sometimes went outside in the back yard. There was a garage full of old stuff, but we weren’t allowed in there. I think her grandmother was afraid we would get hurt. In the yard, there was a circle of bushes we could climb inside of to play. It was like having a dollhouse. If we tired of this, we went in the front yard to play hop scotch on the sidewalk or sit in the porch swing.
We had another best friend who lived two blocks in the other direction from the school. Sometimes she would walk home with us. One day all three of us were in the porch swing. Big mistake as I had put on a “little weight.” You guessed it. Just as we really got the swing going, my end fell. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t then. Of course, when my end fell, they fell on top of me. How embarrassing. To make it worse, they thought it was hilarious when they got over being scared. It was giggle city until Grandmother made it outside.
One of my fondest memories of Mrs. Tucker’s home was snack time. She would open a can of date bread, slice it and spread cream cheese between two pieces. It was so good. I had never had this before, and not too many times since.
When we were older, Barbara and her mom and dad moved to Roebuck Gardens and she didn’t walk home with me anymore. I got to visit there too and we had good times, but never the same as the old days at her grandmother’s. We would sit up all night talking, giggling and eating sauerkraut from the can. I know, it sounds terrible, but we loved it. We wrote stories about the Beatles and decided that Paul was our favorite.
Sausage was still around and still avoided my feet. Barbara’s dad taught him not to come into the kitchen. We could sit there and eat and he would sit back in the den and watch. As we became adults, went separate ways and married, our activities changed but we still got together. I was always very close to her mother. She was a good friend and could listen to my problems objectively and give good advice. When I was selling colored glassware via home parties, Barbara and Mrs. Tucker had lots of parties for me. Their houses were full of this glass. I guess Barbara’s still is. Her dad is still living in the same house, but she lost her mother several years ago. It had been a long time since I’d seen her, but just knowing she was there gave me comfort. I really miss her.
Barbara and her husband James are soon expecting their first grandchild. It seems just yesterday that I was crocheting baby things for their children. Sausage has been gone a long time. The last “picture Christmas card” I received from them, they had a big, auburn colored dog named “Aubie.” (Guess where they all went to college.)
Oh, how time flies. No matter what we have shared, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of her is our childhood in East Lake. Grandmother’s house, the box of trinkets and the date bread with cream cheese. I’ve tried to block out the porch swing.
I was wishing for spring as I drove home from work this afternoon. The sun was so pretty and I could almost visualize little crocus and hyacinths working their way up from fall and winter’s debris to show off their soft hues of new life. It made me think of buttercups. Not daffodils or jonquils, buttercups - those soft, paper thin pink flowers that grow wild, often beside our southern highways. I’m sure you remember them even if you haven’t seen any lately. When we were kids they grew in abundance at the back of my grandmother’s yard. We all knew what would happen if we stuck our noses in them, but we did it anyway. What good is it to have buttercups if you have no “butter” on your nose? They were so full of yellow pollen that it looked like you had been in a food fight supplied by a butter churn. It was even more fun to fool unsuspecting cousins visiting from Georgia. Georgia must not have buttercups. It always worked on them, at least once.
We always had great fun outside, which was fortunate since we spent so much time out of the house, partly to be out of our parents’ way and partly because there was no air conditioning. Mother and my grandmother both had the greenest thumbs. We lived next door to each other and it was like one great big botanical garden. They managed to have color in the yard all year, whether flowers, vegetables, bushes with berries or varying shades of evergreens. There were always places to hide in the garden if you were playing hide-n-seek or just waiting to jump out on an unsuspecting passerby. There were lots of big bushes and tall plants. There was also a trellis at the side of my grandparents’ house that had pink roses growing all over it. You had to pass under it to get from the backyard to the front. We had a tree in one corner that had seed pods that looked like green beans. We would “pick” these beans and pretend to cook them in old pots no longer used in the kitchen. We didn’t dare pick the real vegetables. Unlike today’s children, we knew the consequences of unacceptable behavior.
My grandmother always let me have my own tomato plant. We grew the biggest, juiciest tomatoes you ever tasted. They just don’t make them like that anymore. I liked to pull the small ones and eat them right there in the yard. We also had zucchini squash that would get big enough to use for baseball bats if you didn’t pick them often. She had beautiful roses, especially the yellow ones. My baby brother had a particular favorite. Mother called it summer poinsettia, (Amaranthus). As he was growing up the plants would often be taller than he was. We have pictures of him standing under them grinning from ear to ear. Grandmother always grew strawberries for this brother. They were his and no one else was allowed to pick them. He would run out everyday to see if any were ready. It was a good thing my other brother and I were a nine and six years older than Kevin and could enjoy him instead of being jealous.
I have to tell you a funny thing that happened to him one fall. He may not appreciate my telling it, but you will. Grandmother had let him help her plant pumpkin seeds in a raised flower bed on the side of the yard. He watched the vines grow and squealed with delight as the vines blossomed and then pumpkins began to form. One of them started to get a little size to it, but the vines weren’t doing very well that year. In order to keep the magic going for Kevin, my oldest aunt, who still lived at home, decided to start buying pumpkins at the store that were a little bigger each week and she would replace the one growing there so that he thought his pumpkin was growing bigger and bigger. He could hardly contain himself. It finally got big enough to use for a Jack-O-Lantern. It was all we could do not to laugh and give away the secret. As a matter of fact, we hid the secret very well. About ten years ago, we were talking about this and Kevin said, “What are you talking about?” He had no idea what our aunt had done. We couldn’t believe the secret had been kept for over 25 years. There have been very few times in his life that I have seen him more upset and disappointed. He was mad, not just at my aunt, but at all of us. We had tricked him and destroyed one of his happiest memories by telling him. I hope he has sufficiently recovered to laugh with us when he reads this in the paper. If not, I hope he will forgive me.
It is by no accident that we find garden settings for so many ceremonies, celebrations, religious retreats, etc. I am often drawn to our Birmingham Botanical Gardens, as I am no longer able to grow plants and flowers of my own. My husband and I took a stroll there this last Sunday. It brought back many lovely memories of trips there with my grandmother and the rest of the family. It also gave me ideas I would like to implement at home. Mostly, it gave me a sense of peace and contentment being surrounded by one aspect of God’s gifts to us all. It’s amazing that it takes a huge enterprise such as the Botanical Gardens to come remotely close to the garden of my childhood.
Here is the first story I will share with you. This was written just after my mother passed away, but less than a year before my dad passed. There are many earlier stories, but I will have to scan them into the computer before I can post them. I hope you enjoy this.
As a child, I knew nothing of divorce or “blended” families. Moms and Dads stayed married and collectively cared for their children, often with the help of grandparents, aunts, and uncles. This blissful ignorance probably caused me to take many things for granted. I’d always had it good, but didn’t realize just how good.
Until 1976 when my grandmother died, I always considered myself as having three mothers. That’s three and without the benefit of stepparents. This in no way takes away from the wonderful woman my mother was or the terrific job she did as a mother. She didn’t need help mothering us; we were just blessed to have my grandmother and my mother’s oldest sister to share in our lives. My Aunt Lora didn’t marry until she was in her 40’s and was always there for my brothers and me. She lived next door to us with my grandparents. It was such a perfect world – one that I wish everyone could have experienced. We moved freely between houses and knew we were always welcome and would be treated the same way in both places. None of this mushy, grandparent spoiling for my mother's children – we knew to behave no matter where we were.
I remember a friend walking home with me from school one day. My grandparent’s house was on the corner before my house. We stopped there first. We walked up on the front porch and I opened the door for us to go in. She couldn’t believe I would be bold enough to open the door without knocking. With disbelief and shock written all over her face, she stood there as I explained that it was my home too. Why shouldn’t I open the door and go in? Why would Mama and Granddaddy not want me to come in where I belonged? Of course, at that time I thought they were old and I was very innocent as to the ways of married people. I now know that they were younger then than I am now and I certainly don’t want to be considered old.
I used to dream of gathering all the people I loved the most into the same house and keeping them there with me forever. At that time my daddy was a strict disciplinarian with high standards. This didn’t put him too high on the list of permanent residents in my dream world. For many years he was completely off the list. I only allowed my mother, grandparents, youngest brother Kevin, and my aunts into this fantasy. Of course, my dogs and cats were there. What would a world be without dogs and cats? My brother Steve wasn’t allowed. He had the most annoying habit – he loved to drive me crazy. The madder I got, the more he laughed. He would tell me “You are so cute when you are mad – your nose wiggles.”
Mother, my grandmother a.k.a. Mama, and I had so much fun when I wasn’t in school. Mama had never driven so Mother and I took her everywhere. We went to the Sears and Roebuck in East Lake to pay some of the bills. There was also a little department store on 77th Street that Mama liked to shop in sometimes. Most often, we went to Roebuck Shopping Center after it was built and shopped in Penney’s, Grant’s and Woolworth’s. Mama bought her embroidery thread at Penney’s. It was always DMC and was in little drawers that the sales lady pulled out for her. She got her crochet yarn at Woolworth’s. She used Red Heart brand and I got to help her pick it out. It didn’t matter if they bought me anything or not. I just wanted to be with them and look at all the pretty things. On special days, Mama would dress up in her black dress, a hat to match, gloves and Sunday shoes and we would go downtown. We walked from Yielding’s to Loveman’s then to Berger Phillips. (My feet and legs didn’t hurt so much then.) I still have two little charge plates that were Mama’s. They are about the size of dog tags and are in little black, leather cases. I was so pleased when I found these in her old jewelry box.
Having three mothers was great. It was very rare that at least one of them would not be available. My aunt always worked out of the home, but Mother and Mama didn’t and this made it very hard for me to go to school. The four of us had a most special and unusual bond that has outlasted any other relationship I’ve had, except the one I finally developed with my dad. It took me a long time to realize what his motives were and even longer to appreciate them. We are very close now and I wouldn’t take anything for the things he has taught me – by word and by example. I still don’t agree with all of his methods, but we all have to do what we think is best and hope we are right.
Now I find myself not with three mothers, but motherless. We lost Mother on her birthday, March 9th, 2004. Going from three mothers to none is hard, but they prepared me well. I owe it to them to survive and try to give back to others some of the blessings God gave me by placing me in their care.
I know they are rejoicing and singing around God’s piano now, like we used to do around my piano. I’m learning to be an individual with a life of my own. I’m enjoying my very patient and tolerant husband and my stepdaughters. I’m redecorating the house and might even learn Spanish. It is difficult to fill up all the empty spaces my three mothers have left, but I am making progress. Sometimes, I even put the cell phone, otherwise know as my umbilical cord, down and leave it for minutes at a time. I spend time with Daddy and try to bring him as much joy as possible, as Mother left an even bigger hole in his life. We had a family birthday party last weekend. The house was full again, as it was in my youth. It felt good. I actually felt like planning and cooking and managed to enjoy myself.
My house has new life and will hopefully be filled with the joy of little feet one day. I have a new life and I’m learning to enjoy it in spite of my loss. Instead of helping Mother with family dinners and celebrations, I will be the “Grandmother in charge.” My three mothers may have passed from this house to God’s, but they will forever have a place in my heart and in my home.
My name is Laura. I was trying to have a different description for each blog, but evidently I can't do that. So I will say my blogs are for looking and learning about tatting, reading stories from my childhood and a forum for Leprechauns. I hope you find at least one you enjoy.