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.
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.