Friday, June 1, 2012

A cool and welcome change of pace

Cool cloudy days like this one are a relief to me after several days in the sun doing mostly outdoor work. 

I love being in the garden and mowing, weeding, etc., but it seems like there’s always one more weed to pull or something else to plant or pick.  

However, when I got out of bed this morning to cloudy skies, then rain, I felt freer to turn my attention to inside work: laundry and writing, for example. 

I also listened in while Chelsea interviewed her “Granny Grethel” for the research project she’s doing for Berea College.  She’s been busy collecting oral histories about Appalachian food ways.

My mother-in-law shared stories about making buttermilk candy and told how to roast a groundhog so the meat doesn’t taste so wild (with sprigs of spice wood). 

She said she used to pick and sell blackberries and save her money to order school clothes from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.  She recalled how their house caught on fire when her kids were small. She just happened to have a lot of water “drawed up” to douse on it and put it out.  (Yes, we did veer a little off topic.) 

She said the neighbors used to come running to see if you needed help if you blew a car horn. 

“We always had plenty to eat,” my mother-in-law said repeatedly. “We always had a lot of love and we always got along.”

Except for when her father called them all to the breakfast table, and they’d fight over who got the biggest boiled egg to crumble over their biscuit and gravy.

A stranger with a camera might have surmised that her family was impoverished.  But what the camera would have missed is how close they were, and how they went about their work with good humor and lots of pranks pulled on one another. 

My girls are fortunate to still have both sets of grandparents and a great-grandmother to pass along such priceless information about their heritage.   

I never knew my dad’s parents--he barely knew them either, because both died before he was six.  I lost my mom’s parents before I was 25.  

I always felt like I missed out, not ever getting to meet my paternal grandparents, and I still miss my maternal grandparents, though they’ve been gone a long time. 

My mother-in-law’s father died of prostate cancer when he was 48.  That’s mine and Robin’s age.  That’s young. 

Her mother died of tuberculosis in her mid-fifties. 

My husband still has his “Great-granny”--who now seems like mine too--but there aren’t really many of our oldest family members left to share their special memories of growing up in hard times… those difficult days when work was physical and tough, but their days were also filled with laughter and love.

As Chelsea captures audio of the voices of her interviewees and painstakingly transcribes their dialect, she’s also noting the rhythms of speech, the pronunciations and expressions that reveal our Scottish and Irish ancestry. 

I’m glad our speech hasn’t been blanched of its personality by mainstream America. I hope to goodness it never is. 

Many folks around here might not be aware that they are of Scotch-Irish descent, but their language, beliefs, and customs carry echoes of previous generations of settlers, who, while poor and not too book smart, were smart enough to survive and thrive.

Tonight, to celebrate a cool cloudy pensive spring evening and to honor our Appalachian ancestors who knew how to take the simplest ingredients and whip up a tasty meal, Chelsea made homemade biscuits, and I stirred up some chocolate gravy for supper.

I really needed a break from all those salad peas.  ;) 

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