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Patsy Hatfield Lawson

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Childhood Christmases

December 17, 2014

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It probably sounds odd and strange when I say that Christmas for me had little to do with Santa Clause. Honestly I don't know what my parents believed about Santa Clause or whether they 'played' Santa for my three older brothers or not. All I know is that they were totally unconnected to doing the Santa Clause thing when I came along. I think I remember them doing the part about him coming in the night and leaving a present, but it was not a matter of excitement to them or me, and neither was it used to get me to behave. Perhaps they had done these things for my brothers and were tired of the idea by the time I came along. The few times they mentioned Santa were tied to their bedroom and some small gifts that Santa had 'maybe left for me.' These gifts were not under a tree nor were they wrapped. I remember trying to act like I liked these items from Santa. It was a truly awkward moment for me because I did not know what to say or how to act.

Likewise, Herman had parents who did not do 'the Santa thing' and at a very early age told him that Santa was just your Mom and Dad. I think their belief was that the focus of Christmas was a religious thing and not about a fictitious person name Santa Clause. What strikes me as odd now is how Herman and I DID do Santa for our boys until they were 8 or so. While I'm not sure now how we came around to deciding to play Santa, I guess we thought it was easier to go along with the crowd.

For me I cannot imagine Christmas without aunts, uncles, cousins, and random guests who showed up at our house on the big day. For us Christmas was a big family party that had a few gifts, but the focus was more on enjoying each other's company, sharing a meal and telling funny stories about family members. Food WAS a big deal at our house for Christmas. Mama always had fresh pork tenderloin, sausage and ham. We had frozen and canned vegetables from her summer garden and the stack cake desserts were what everyone raved about. In my early adolescence I got introduced to German Chocolate Cake and from that point on I made one each Christmas for our family. It became 'my' signature Christmas dessert. I have always preferred to cook desserts over vegetables , meats or salads so after I learned to make German Chocolates cakes it became my specialty.

Each year as Christmas rolls around I begin to think about German Chocolates cakes and who I want to surprise with my specialty cake . This year as we celebrate our first Christmas at our older son's home, I will arrive early the day before Christmas to bake the German Chocolate Cake. Oh, how I do hope they will love it as much as I do and that it will become a family tradition that is handed down from me to them. If it doesn't I suppose we will have to see what new tradition we will adapt for future Christmases.

Fall Apple Butter

September 23, 2014

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Recently on a very hot August weekend we joined our son and his wife in Rutledge, TN for the annual Tomato Festival. This festival has been around 20 years or more and still gets record crowds to celebrate the homely tomato. Rutledge has become the tomato capitol of East TN and a well recognized place to purchase fresh garden vegetables throughout the summer months. This festival has many of the typical attractions such as antique autos, a large variety of food, jewelry, cooking items, music of all types, dancers, foods to sample, etc., but the thing that attracted me was the 'tomato fight'. Growing up I heard stories about siblings and relatives getting mad at each other and settling it with a tomato fight in the tomato patch. The last man standing dripping in tomato juice from every thread of his clothes was declared the winner. While today's version of a tomato fight only partly resembles a 'real' tomato fight, you get a vivid picture of how conflicts could be resolved in a better way than shooting someone.

By chance I ran into a rather interesting elderly gentleman who was inviting folks to pick up information he had researched about apple varieties. Over the years he had gotten interested in these apples because he wanted to know their origin and how regionally or non-regionally they could be found in isolated pockets of Appalachia. Having grown up myself with at least four varieties of apples on our farm, his research was interesting to my husband and me. I recognized many of these apples by sight and could name them. I also knew which ones were excellent for making apple butter. This was something Mama had taught me by saying, "You just can't use any apple for your apple butter. They's some varieties that cook well and make good apple butter, and they's others that are only for eatin' and not cookin." We had both types on our Appalachian farm. Eventually I learned them all. Probably the most interesting thing was to see how these varieties of apples had ended up all across the US according to his research. Besides his free handouts on his research he had about 4-5 different apple butters for us to sample so we could discover the varieties of tastes in apple butter. I loved it because it took me back to Mama's kitchen.

It also took me back to the fall days when we made apple butter outside in a copper kettle over an open fire. It was a three day process; one day to peel two or three bushels of apples, and another day to sit outside near the open fire kettle with a wooden paddle and stir the apples while they cooked. The third day was relegated to canning the fresh apple butter so that it would keep for many years. I saw this simply as too much work and bother then for the taste of apple butter. I never could figure out why Mama's city sisters and brothers raved over this stuff. Funny how things change. Right now I would give my left ear for some of Mama's fresh cooked apple butter and hot biscuits.

Churning Butter

Sunday 8th August 2014

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At least three times during any week on our farm Mama interrupted our routine duties to churn buttermilk and make butter. By the time I reached 10 I was assigned this duty because she wanted to focus her attention on other things. I never minded the process since it took only fifteen minutes or so of my time, and I enjoyed the rhythm of the dasher moving up and down into the crock churn, and watching the small beads of butter begin to form around the hole where the dasher exited the churn lid. The constant up and down motion was like the rhythm of a rocking chair, almost mesmerizing. 

When the butter around the churn lid reached a certain size you knew that the process was complete. The next step was to remove the churn lid, separate the butter from the buttermilk, pour the buttermilk into other containers and refrigerate them. The butter was also placed in the refrigerator to cool down until the remaining buttermilk could be removed from the butter by squeezing it with her hands in a bowl.  She then added a little salt and placed the butter back in the refrigerator to cool down again before she molded it into the final form. The whole process of churning took about twenty minutes; working with the butter took longer because of the chilling and molding steps to complete the process.  My life now is far removed from churning butter and making buttermilk.  Like everyone else now I purchase my butter or processed margarine from a grocery store, or when pressed for time, a small market that is part of a gas station. Mama would be amazed by this, and I know she would waste no time telling me that churning your own butter and buttermilk is valuable because it gives you a pause in daily duties to get lost in the rhythm of a churn dasher in the process of separating butter from buttermilk. Now I listen to music as do my daily routines.  Is this just another way I have added pauses and rhythm to my daily routines?

Summers at Our House

Wednesday July 16th, 2014

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When I was growing up nothing ever seemed to change at my house. After Daddy died Mama began a rigid routine that she followed religiously for each of the four seasons. Summer was dedicated to growing a large garden, harvesting the fruits of this garden, and canning or freezing what was harvested along with doing the other daily chores of running a household. Each week we repeated the same activities of washing clothes, cooking three meals daily, canning beans, beets, berries, and making pickles or freezing corn, strawberries, beans, apples, mustard greens, and okra. Mama always appeared to be the happiest when she was following her routines which varied little. All summer long she was busy preparing food for the winter months and doing other daily monotonous tasks. Stability had become Mama's focus and my nemesis.

My focus, however, was to make each day different and creative. I hated these routines and sameness. I dreamed of daily variety; new foods, new chores, escape from chores, some rare new event; trips away from the farm; and new people. While Mama's theme was repeat, repeat, repeat; my focus was change, change, change. I rarely voiced discontent about the sameness because I knew from past efforts to make changes that nothing would change. I often felt trapped by our farm life.

My saving grace each summer from this daily monotony was weekend visits from uncles, aunts and cousins. Often they showed up unannounced and stayed as long as they wished because there was fresh cooked food, a tidy house, and listening ears, namely Mama, Daddy and me. Almost all of Mama's nine siblings were great humorists and storytellers. Before Daddy's death at age 64, he was right in the middle of these storytelling episodes. He loved a good story. These stories were mostly about ourselves or people in our communities. Aside from some exaggeration of a fact or two all the stories were true, mostly focused on some mishap or embarrassment to the teller. Occasionally there was a story involving a stranger or friend of the family. These were stories that made us laugh at ourselves and our relatives, and they were never mean spirited. At least once or twice in the summer a visiting cousin from Texas or out of state would join in these sessions. I basically grew up in the middle of humor stories.

Mama's monotony was occasionally interrupted by visits from my three older brothers who each had been in the military and had gotten to travel extensively in Europe. They took tons of slides of their explorations and when they returned home we hung a sheet on the side of the house which became a makeshift screen and put on slide shows of their travels. We invited family, friends and neighbors. My brothers narrated the 'show'. I soaked in every part of the experience and dreamed of a day when I, too, would go to Europe to see these places for myself. When school started each year I 'held court' with my friends to tell them about these places and pictures. The truth was that neither they or myself knew anything about the places in Europe my brothers visited, but it was still so exciting, so beautiful, to share what I knew, as little as it was. The biggest result of all these pictures, stories, and travel experience was that I decided that my adult life would include exploration of the world for myself and to see what they had seen.

Many years have passed since the slide shows and the beginning of my adult life. I have kept my promise to myself to travel as much as I could to see the US and other countries. I am very pleased that I've been able to see what I have seen, but my list is still long. I know I will not get it all seen, but all that matters to me now is that I keep traveling until either my health, age, or both, became prohibitive. I guess I should thank my Mama for creating an environment that pushed me out of her safe routine world and into a larger world, but I don't think this was what she planned.

Memoirs and the Season of Summer

Friday June 27th, 2014

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My favorite season has always been summer.  Most people from mountain areas usually say that fall is their favorite season because the trees take on a variety of colors following the first frost.  Everyone seems to want to see this annual transformation take place. For me, fall is the time of dying and death; the end of luscious green growth, and the hibernation of most plant life.  

But summer is the peak of all things green, growing, and alive. Life flows through every blade of grass, every flower, and each garden. It's the time when the earth is most alive no matter which part of our planet you happen to be on. Not only was our small farm alive with vegetation, the animals were birthing and breeding, and our house was bursting with things to do, relatives, neighbors, and activities.  It was these things that made daily life so special for me in the summer.  There was constant change and transition in daily activities.  I was never bored because every farm activity was another adventure; rarely were two days the same.

I often think of our house like Grand Central Station.  People came, went, stayed, worked, talked, napped, broke beans, and shucked corn, while telling stories under the big oak tree in our front yard. It was under this tree that I learned where I came from, who my relatives were, and all the local gossip.  We waved at people who passed in their cars and walked along the road.  Our house was "home" to all of Mama's and Daddy's relatives.

There was always work to be done but it rarely interfered with socializing.  It was in all these daily summer activities that I was groomed in storytelling, not that it was planned for Patsy to learn this skill, but it was just there to be absorbed like the temperature, and the culture around me.

Recently my husband and I completed our book of memoirs.  This process took us both back in time and place.  We shared so many of the stories we knew from our childhood and our lives. This memoir was a visit back to people, places, events, and stories we felt we had to share with those who would come after us.  Our grandchildren are now quite young or unborn and may never know who we were, or get to hear our voices or stories, but perhaps this book and the stories contained within it will give them a picture of our lives, our values, and their link to us.  Oh, how I have wished I had known my grandparents personally and what their life was like and what their stories were.

Growing Up With three Older Brothers

Saturday May 31st, 2014

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None of us get to choose the circumstances surrounding our birth. None of us get to choose our parents or our siblings. I was born when my parents were middle aged; Daddy was 50, Mama was 40, and I inherited three older brothers all of whom were in high school, specifically as a senior, a junior and a sophomore. I was the only girl; born fifteen years after the youngest son. I often think how strange this must have felt to my adolescent brothers as they had to confront a pregnant Mom when sex was never discussed at our house and sex education occurred only in random settings, mostly with peers sharing with others information they individually knew. Since my brothers were male I assume that they got more education on my topic of sex than I did because I feel certain my Dad would have talked with them. Mom could not talk about the topic with her sisters so I know she could not have addressed the topic with her sons. She never addressed the topic with me.

I consider myself so fortunate to have had these three brothers in my life even though they were exiting our home during my first years of life. In some ways they were more like uncles because of their age, but I never felt them to be that distant because I was told they were my brothers, period. I was told by many relatives that each of these brothers adored me and invested a lot of time in my early years. Throughout my growing up years these brothers flowed in and out of my life as they entered college, went to serve their country, and then took jobs. All three of them married later in life, after age 30, and each gave something of themselves to me from their own interests. I learned about medical school, factory supervision jobs, golf, football, and sales jobs of pharmaceutical representatives. I learned social skills from being around them when they conversed with friends and bosses. Each of them loved music a great deal. The type of music differed due to their own exposure to different genres, but I learned music was an important piece of life. They also taught me to dance and often showed me pictures of themselves with various dates at dances. They were each very fashion conscious and great conversationalists.

Perhaps this involvement with my life was accidental and totally unplanned. Perhaps it was just them being themselves without giving thought to what they were giving or sharing with me, but I can't quite believe it was that simple and un-thought out. Each of these brothers chose to accept the advice of aunts and uncles who told them to get a college education because it was very important to success in life. When it came to me, I believe all of it was intentional, planned and given to me because they had learned themselves that success in life depended on many factors, all equally important, and things that they had learned to master because they saw them as steps to acceptance and success. Mama and Daddy had some of these skills but not enough to provide all the examples that we would need to become successful. Today I marvel at all the amazing advantages they, my parents, and to some degree my sisyer-in-laws, were able to give me during mt growing up years with what appeared to be so little effort.

This past week I attended the funeral of Howard, the oldest brother who was the pharmaceutical representative. L C, the second brother, businessman and industrial-business expert, died several years back. Now only one brother survives; Charlie, the youngest, who became a medical doctor. With each new death I feel I am losing a piece of myself; a piece that is so genuinely precious to me. While I never remember expressing to any of them or any other aunt or uncle, the deep feelings I have for all they did and gave to me as the youngest sibling I feel a sudden need to declare publically what a privileged life I have been given by so many people. How did I get so lucky in life to be born into a family who seemed to give me all they knew to help me find my path. How did I get this wealth of siblings, parents, uncles and aunts who stood by me throughout my childhood and adulthood to see that I found my own path to success? I now know in a very deep way how blessed my life has been to have had my own teaching and cheering squad who gave me all they had to make things easier for me. Maybe this is what we all are supposed to give to our family members.

Appalachian Roots

Monday April 21st, 2014

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This past weekend my husband and I joined our son and daughter-in-law in Ashville, NC for an Easter visit.  Our daughter-in-law is on staff at Warren Wilson College, a unique Appalachian based college that combines preserving traditional animal and food production skills along with earning a four year degree. Being in the Spring season anywhere is exciting, but this place took Spring to a whole new level.

Herman and I were both raised on Appalachian farms in East Tennessee.  Generally these farms are mountainous, under a hundred acres, hilly, and isolated among the hills and hollers.  Spring is always the most exciting time of the year because new calves, colts, piglets, sheep, chicks, ducks and geese are being born daily. Everything is so alive! While we lived year round on our farms, spring stands out as unique because it follows, in my opinion, the ugliest season of winter.  Spring  brings lots of rain, cool temperatures, a fresh smell to the air. The sunshine  is so powerful that it strikes the new green leaves in a way that overpowers one's senses. This past weekend on Warren Wilson's farm was no exception.

We saw sheep that were both sheared and waiting to be sheared. There were a gazillion piglets and chirping baby chicks. Horses were waiting to be harnessed to plows fields along with tractors that had recently overturned the wet, dark black earth for planting. And there was the smell of manure that waited to be hauled out to fertilize this year's crops.  Bees buzzed, ants crawled and wasps were busy building this year's nests.  It was such a sensory overload for us.

Most East Tennesseans and North Carolinians are of English, Scotch or Irish descent.  Their farms and methods of farming still greatly resemble the farming skills of these British Isles.  Appalachian cooking and food preparation skills still resemble the British methods.  My first understanding of this resemblance came when I visited the British Isles for the first time and saw foods and tastes identical to my Mom's. It was this connection that tied so much history together for me in a way that no classroom could have produced.

Standing in the barns and sheds on Warren Wilson College farms I suddenly knew where I was from in a fresh way. I could feel my long deceased Mom and Dad, both sets of grandparents, and a long line of other descendants who came to this new world and found a place much like 'home' in the old country. I never suspected as a child that I, too, would embrace this heritage as all the others before me had embraced it. This weekend the connection became quite real.

Images of a Mountain Spring

Wednesday March 6th, 2014

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I think I can easily say that Spring has always been my favorite season of all. Spring is very sensual, fresh, and brimming with life.. As a child of the East Tennessee mountains I have so many rich images of this special time of the year. Please allow me to take you there as I reminisce through my images of springs from my childhood on a 65 acre Appalachian farm.

  • wet, slick, shivering, wobbly, newborn calves
  • fragrant pink apple blossoms
  • defiant yellow dandelions dotting our yard
  • the color of green everywhere, so green you can smell its fragrance
  • animals mating all over the place
  • washing windows to remove the last evidence of winter and fall
  • mending broken fences so the newborn calves and their moms will stay nearby
  • wild green onions doting the landscape and milk that is undrinkable from the smell
  • newly sprouted lettuce beds covered with canvas to protect them from late frosts
  • newly hatched, fluffy, yellow baby chicks following mama hen
  • muddy, flooded creeks and rivers overflowing their banks
  • wild creasy greens just waiting to be picked, cooked and enjoyed
  • the smell of newly plowed soil
  • creek baptisms with shivering girls in white dresses pinned around their legs
  • the sound of "Morning Has Broken"
  • black patent leather shoes and white socks
  • the smell of freshly burned tobacco beds now waiting to be sown
  • the feel of cold dirt under your feet; dirt not yet warmed by the spring sunshine
  • the linger of cold Northern winds that chill you to the bone
  • multi-colored pastel Easter eggs
  • ducks on the pond with their young ducklings
  • the smell of a freshly cut lawn

Aunt Emma's and Aunt Fay's Books

Friday February 14th, 2014

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The other day my husband and I got in a conversation about the importance of books in children's lives. Part of this reflection led to Dolly Parton's Imagination Library which donates a book monthly to all children who sign up until they enter first grade. While I don't know what motivated her to choose this particular charity, I can't help but believe that it is related to her experiences as a child of Appalachia (Sevierville, TN). She came from a large poor family that struggled to survive during her growing up years. I think she graduated from high school, but by that time she had already started her singing career. To me she is a heroine because I, too, knew a similar world of mountains, ignorance, struggle and, to some degree, a disrespect for education. What I see in her charity is the idea that exposure to different worlds through books can drastically impact how you see and interact with the real world. It certainly did for me.

While I had 18 aunts and uncles several of which I interacted with daily and a family that had more education than Dolly's, I know the impact of social ignorance and poor education. The major influence to my isolation and ignorance was through books also; books that were given me by Aunt Emma and Aunt Fay. Aunt Emma lived about 85 miles from me and was a kindergarten teacher until her own children arrived. Aunt Fay had no children and lived 7 miles from me. Both were frequent visitors to our house. Both seemed to take a special interest in me and my life. They filled in the spaces of parenting that Mama and Daddy could not; the spaces of ignorance about a larger world and its people. Aunt Fay shopped for me, tried new recipes with me, and simply took the time to talk to me. Aunt Emma also talked to me, but she asked more questions and both of them really listened to the answers I gave. I remember them laughing long lengths of time to something I said or one of my answers. One of Aunt Emma's best gifts to me was 10 books that she was given when her school purchased new books. I got some of the old ones and was encouraged to read them. These books were very age appropriate and easily captured my third grade interests. We talked about them after I read them. This made me want to read more books.

I should tell you that I was not a book worm in spite of Aunt Emma's and Aunt Fay's encouragement because Mama who read very little had other things she had to teach me about farming, cooking and canning. I rarely went searching for a new book to read, but when one was given to me I felt obligated to read it because Mama said it was a gift and gifts should "always be appreciated by using them no matter what they was." In high school I worked during study hall with Aunt Fay, the school librarian, as a 'library assistant'. This introduced me to more books which I mostly shelved and heard others talk about. The only book I ever remember wanting to read was "Lady Chatterley's Lover" but I knew I'd never stand a chance at getting my hands on this one because Aunt Fay protected it with her life. However, during my senior year I managed to sneak it out of the library for the summer. NOW THAT WAS A BOOK! I still don't know if she ever knew I had it, but if she did she never said a word and I haven't got up the nerve yet to ask her.

Sometimes I often wonder how on earth I became a college professor when I had so little experience with books and reading. Both my ACT and SAT scores showed me that I didn't know very much because I had not read all the things college bound kids should read. I didn't know what a classic was and didn't care to know, but somehow by the time I finished college I had learned what conversations to avoid and which brainy people I could and could not tolerate. I still managed to graduate Magna Cum Laude and knew the stuff I was interested in quite well.

Now some fifty years later I understand the role books played in taking me to new worlds. Had these two aunts not been intimately involved in my life by exposing me to books I'm sure that I would not be a reader at all or at least only a reader of sensational books like "Lady Chatterley's Lover". Oh, did I mention I am currently reading "Fifty Shades of Grey"?

Random Gifts

Tuesday January 7th, 2014

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I just finished wrapping a small package and will soon head to the Post Office to get it in today's mail for my 89 year old aunt in East Tennessee. It's a silver demitasse cup which she may or may not use. It doesn't matter to me whether she uses it or not because the gift is more about memories than practicality.

This particular aunt was a constant in daily life as I grew up. She was unable to have children and to fill that void she chose several of her nieces to share parts of her life with as they matured. I was one of those nieces. She lived within the city limits of Sneedville; I lived on a small farm 7 miles from town. In high school I saw her daily as our high school librarian; on the farm she often dropped by to chat or to leave small gifts for our family. Sometimes it would be a couple of magazines or her church bulletins; other times it would be food or some trinket that she found and wanted to give to us.

While I often read everything she left, it was the small trinkets that often caught my eye. They were not necessarily expensive and sometime I wondered why she had chosen a particular trinket. When asked about it she simply said, "I thought this was cute," or "This made me think of you." Mama, the most practical minded woman I ever knew, saw these gifts as 'childish' because they weren't usable from her viewpoint. Often her comments were, "Just another piece to sit around and collect dust." Sometimes Mama even made these comments in front of her, but she rarely responded back or tried to explain the gift she had given.

I still have a few of these 'trinket' pieces and run across them from time to time. There is the Joan Walsh Anglund figurine which went with a book she gave me, and there are some Christmas ornaments, but the ones I liked best were the miniature dishes that she insisted we use to 'sip our hot tea' or a small decorative plate that we used to serve our freshly made cookies. She and I often found occasions to use some of these trinkets and to enjoy our experience a great deal. Sometimes we pretended to be people we weren't or shared a laugh or two about some 'too critical' family member.

The demitasse cup gift that I will mail today to my Aunt Fay is a shiny bright red cup and saucer similar to one she once gave me. I also bought one of these cups for myself. In the box is a small note that simply says, "This made me think of you." The next time I visit her I hope to once again share hot tea together with our special cups.

The Quiet(?) of Winter

Tuesday December 24th, 2013

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Winter is often referred to as 'the slow season'. This perception is quite fitting because the vibrancy of growth and change slows down, giving nature and earth inhabitants a break from the race of daily tasks. Mother Nature seems to lean back into her plush easy chair, breathe deeply and celebrate the simple process of living rather than racing ahead. Our East Tennessee garden was often frozen ground with a few remaining corn stalks standing crooked and bent from the fall harvest frenzy.

In our house there was some stillness, a slower pace and more reflection about who we were as a family in this space and time. Mama and Aunt Ruby began this season with negotiations about who they were making quilts for this year. All children, grandchildren, and cousins were mentioned along with the number and type of quilts each one possessed. Based on this information they decided how many quilts would be made this year and who would receive them. Some years it was a quick process; other years there were debates resulting in a decision two or three weeks later. Once the decision was made they began the process of cutting and sewing the pieces for quilt pattern.

The 'tension piece' for this whole process was the actual quilting because their quilting styles and procedures were radically different. Mama was precise in her cutting, stitches, and patterns; Aunt Ruby was not. In fact, Aunt Ruby never seemed to understand what the word "precise" meant. To her quilting was some sort of impulsive 'creative process' which could result in the addition of random stitches, creative patterns, or new time saving inventions. Aunt Ruby's "creativeness" drove Mama crazy! Mama was a scientist; Aunt Ruby was an artist of the rarest type. And this difference was where the arguments started.

From this point in the quilting process it became a three month daily argument over style and method. While it never broke out into hard words or fist fights, it was clear that each held her ground without compromising. There were days of total stand-off and each one doing her own 'thing' on her side of the quilt. Both of them knew it was hopeless to try to change the opinion of the other, but this never stopped them from trying to bring about change in the other. The final result was always a quilt reflecting each one's philosophy.

Often in the quiet of winter when I come across one of their quilts I pause to examine it carefully. Each personality is right there as obvious as the nose on your face. I can see Mama's precision and perfection intermingled with Aunt Ruby's creative interjections and I even hear their arguments in my head. I can go back to the room, the quilting chairs, and the people as though it were happening right before my eyes. I suppose that's why my quilts are one of my most prized possessions. Maybe these quilts had more to do with remembering them than it did with a slow winter season or any particular quilt pattern or style.

Fall Apples

Friday October 25th, 2013

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On our farm we had many apple trees that were planted by the man who owned the farm before us. By the time I was was growing up these they were mature apple trees that produced regularly each year. We had apples from spring until late fall; different varieties, all good and with their own unique flavors. Mama seemed to work throughout the growing season to preserve as many of these apples as she could.  When she had too many to process or she got tired of ifor free. 

Lidgie was the farm hand who helped us and Uncle Rector during busy farm seasons. He often took apples home with him, but he especially liked the apples from one particular tree, the sweet delicious apple.  It was located near our house and was among our favorites too.  Mama often made apple dumplings from this tree.  But one summer we had a very severe thunderstorm which blew down the sweet apple tree.  It was too damaged to save so Lidgie was asked to cut the tree up into firewood.  He worked days getting this tree chopped up, all the while making comments about how much he would miss this apple tree.

Two or three years passed and Lidgie was still talked about this tree.  By now the wood from the tree had been used up.  He would often say, "I shore do miss that sweet apple tree; it was my favorite." 

Several years later, near Thanksgiving, Lidgie came to our house carrying two hand-made brooms and two 'jar mops' which were used to clean canning jars for canning.  Lidgie said,  "I want to give you and your Uncle Rec one of my brooms and one of my jar mops."  We were surprised because Lidgie did not 

give gifts even at Christmas. He also said, "Look at the handles on the broom and mop." "Them's made from the sweet apple tree that blew down three years ago."  The handles were whittled down perfectly, no splinters and no knots.  Running our hands over the handles we could see the mountain skills he possessed.  Then Lidgie said, "I just couldn't stand to see the wood be burned up as firewood so I saved some of it."  "It now is well dried out so I made the brooms and jar mops for you'al because I thought it would allow the tree to still live in a new form."  

Many years later when we cleaned out Mama's house the broom and jar mop were still among her things. Lidgie was right; they had lived on long after both Mama and Lidgie.

Football at the Hatfield House

Thursday September 16th, 2013

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As traditional East Tennesseans my three older brothers went to UT and earned degrees along with a deep love for UT football and basketball. They took jobs and moved away but remained avid UT fans who attended UT football games as often as they could. When they came home on a UT football weekend there was a standard procedure that had to be followed before each game started. In order for them to see the game the television antenna which was on top of our highest hill would have to be readjusted in order to get television reception from the channel that carried the game. Many of our neighbors who lived on top of hills got four channels. We lived in a valley so we only got one channel.

The procedure to adjust the outdoor antenna required a large coordinated effort of at least four people who were positioned in such a way that communication could be relayed from the living room to the top of the hill above our house. One person was stationed in the living room to watch the television reception quality. Another person was positioned in the yard. The third person was positioned half way up the hill, and the fourth person on top of the hill would manually turn the antenna in various directions until the best reception was received on the set in the living room. All communication had to be yelled to the next person until the person turning the antenna and the person viewing the game had found the best reception. This procedure involved Mama, Daddy, the brother who wanted to see the game, and me. Usually I was the one in the middle of the pasture field who had to dodge the cow manure while I relayed messages. My only interest in the game was the half-time show when the majorettes performed; otherwise, I hated football and didn't understand it. After the game the antenna had to be readjusted back to the one channel we regularly watched. Changing the antennal was a ordeal, to say the least.

During the beginning of my freshman year in high school I decided I wanted to see the majorettes perform live in the stadium so I began my own campaign to get my oldest brother to take me to a real game. He said 'no'.

I continued to beg and finally my brother said, "You don't know enough about football to get to see a real game" (which was true), but I continued to insist on going to the game. Finally, he said, "I'll take you if you can answer three football questions correctly." Here was my chance.

The three questions were: How many yards are there in a football field? What do you call the man in a striped shirt who blows the whistle? And how many 'downs' does each side get before the ball switches sides? I guessed and did not get a single answer correct. My brother laughed until he cried. I was humiliated.

Today if you ask me whether I like football, I will tell you "I don't much care for it." While I have forgiven my brother, I still have no interest in football even after I know the answers to the three questions.

Turned Funny

Wednesday September 11th, 2013

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Growing up in an isolated area of mountainous East Tennessee, I often heard the expression, "Turned Funny". My family used this term to describe a variety of things. It could be used to describe the personality of a neighbor, relative or a random stranger.  In this sense 'turned funny' meant someone who had an odd or difficult personality. They might have problems with strange or different reactions to questions or social exchanges with others.  These people often were temperamental about requests or questions, and expressed their displeasure with odd remarks not usually made by "OK" folks.  In some sense their comments or behavior were unpredictable.  Mama often used the term without explaining her meaning and I was left to insert my own meaning.  As I got older and in college I came to understand 'turned funny' meant having some sort of personality disorder that the person was either born with or learned early on in life. While this explanation was helpful to me, I must confess that it did little to help me understand the person well enough to engage in lengthy conversations.  My approach was simply to avoid talking to them.

Another use for 'Turned Funny' was to describe the position held by an object when in use or its position when placed on a table or solid object.  An example of this meaning would be to describe the way you improperly held a knife for carving meat or the way you improperly held a lug wrench when changing a tire. Often when I was learning to drive or cook I was told that I was holding the steering wheel 'funny' or slicing the cornbread 'funny'.  This type of feedback also meant you should change the position of your hand or the tool so that you could better work with the object in order to get better results.  Only recently as I was trying to explain to my husband the correct way to cut a loaf of bread, I heard myself say, "You've got the knife 'turned funny' and the slices of bread are coming out wrong." And yes, I still hear myself use 'turned funny' when I am at a loss for the proper explanation for someones behavior at a given time or place.

While I know that my use of this term is not well understood by others outside my Appalachian upbringing, it still seems that it's the best term for things that I otherwise have difficulty explaining or describing.  I don't think I need to check this out with Webster's.

Lemon Mousse

Tuesday July 16th, 2013

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Mama was a great cook and knew it. She was a bit like a champion runner or golfer who quietly knew she could handle the competition in her small Appalachian world.  She didn’t brag about her skills;  in fact,  she usually passed off most of the complements she was given by friends and family.  She preferred to share her cooking skills with anyone who would listen. I often was her primary student whether I wanted to be or not. She was like the former beauty queen mom who was determined that her daughter would also become a reigning queen.

So when we got our first University of Tennessee ‘home demonstration lady’ as Mama called her, Mama didn’t join the community club because she felt she didn’t need to learn any new cooking, sewing, or etiquette skills. Aunt Ruby, Mama’s oldest sister who lived across the road from us, was among the first to sign up for the club and encouraged Mama to do the same. She refused by saying that she already knew all she needed to know about cooking, sewing and etiquette. Mama praised Ruby for joining and told me that Ruby needed to do this “‘because she regularly burns three meals everyday.”

The home demonstration lady started her monthly meetings in our community with about ten women including Aunt Ruby. Mama stayed home. Months passed and Mama never joined despite Ruby’s weekly updates on what she was learning and how much she loved it. Eight months passed. Aunt Ruby persisted with the begging until Mama agreed to go to ONE meeting. She told Ruby that she was ‘just doing it to get her to shut up.’

Mama’s meeting came at the beginning of summer and the topic was “Cool and Easy Summer Desserts”. The focus dessert that meeting was Lemon Mousse, an odd name for Mama because she thought it was some kind of animal meat. The recipe required only four basic ingredients which Mama kept regularly in her kitchen, sugar, fresh dairy cream, lemon juice and graham crackers. Mama loved this recipe from the first bite. Without saying a word of praise or thank you to the home demonstration lady or Aunt Ruby, Mama came home and made Lemon Mousse for dinner. Daddy liked it and so did I. And from that point on there was always frozen Lemon Mousse in our freezer for drop in guests. It became one of Mama’s signature desserts and from that point on Mama never missed a home demonstration meeting, and she never thanked or praised Aunt Ruby for getting her to attend her first meeting. Aunt Ruby never expected her praise because she said, “Honey, your Mama just needs to believe she’s the first in everything.”

At least fifty years have passed since I have eaten Lemon Mousse, but there’s never a summer that passes without me thinking about it. I recently came across Mama’s recipes and there it was folded neatly, yellow and food stained, worn, but still in one piece. My brain flooded with memories of all the people who were served a slice of Mama’s Lemon Mousse. This dessert was served to all drop-in guests, politicians, relatives, work hands, and neighbors. There was also the Knoxville tax assessor and his wife who stopped to asked Mama where he could find a good place to eat. Not being able to tell him a suitable place, she said, “Why just come on in and have dinner with us; I’ve ‘bout got it ready.” He and his wife took Mama up on her offer. For at least ten years the tax assessor and his wife stopped for lunch with us every time they came to town. I don’t know whether they were served Lemon Mousse every visit, but I do know that when we were getting Mama’s house ready to be sold and were empting the freezer, there was still Lemon Mousse waiting to be served.

Families and Fireworks

Tuesday July 2nd, 2013

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Growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee our family chose to not get involved with shoot fireworks for the Fourth of July. My parents explained that we did not do this because fireworks could be dangerous and then told some stories about people they knew who had been injured by them. Mama, the guardian of the family money, said it was foolish to spend money on fireworks. She said”Why, it’s just like setting fire to your money and watching it explode in front of your face!” This statement also meant the discussion was over. Herman’s parents seemed to hold the same viewpoint as my family, but his Dad did admit to having enjoyed fireworks when he was younger and told some funny stories about his friends and fireworks. He also allowed Herman to shoot off some firecrackers some years, but always being instructive about safety.

After Herman and I married and had children of my own, we had to confront the issue of fireworks with our own two boys. By the time the boys were 12 and 4 we had become fans of the Nashville Sounds and rarely missed a fireworks night. Throwing caution to the wind, we convinced ourselves that there was a ‘safe’ way to use fireworks and off we went to one of those famous fireworks tents that spring up like mushrooms in Tennessee about two weeks before the fourth of July. Here we explored all kinds of ‘blow up’ gear like rolling firework tanks, firecrackers, sparklers, bottle rockets, cherry bombs, and anything that had an interesting description on the outside package. All four of us were like kids in a candy store! We finally exited the tent two hours later having spent $100 on this shopping spree which was far more than the $10 we had planned to spend. Like many Tennessee families we did our own fireworks show and thought we were almost professionals. These Fourth of July celebrations lasted until the boys lost interest and moved on to bigger toys.

Looking back now at our firework displays and remembering the joy of discovering something new with these sons, I’m reminded of so many other things that we ‘discovered’ with them. Our own protected childhoods have been challenged in so many ways by our kids. I’m so glad we took some risks and challenges together as a family because it has been these things that have held us close as a family and some of the best stories we have to share with each other.

Letters From Vietnam

Wednesday June 19th, 2013

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Recently while going through some memorabilia I came across a collection of letters I had received from various boyfriends during my senior high school year and my first year of college, 1964-1966.  While I don’t remember the reason for keeping these letters, I do know that I had some awareness that they were somehow important. My choice to re-read these letters now was mostly to learn more about my adolescence and how I viewed romance during this time of my life.

To be truthful, I did not find  what  I expected which was  statements of admiration for me; statements about missing me, and  eagerness to get back to normal life and dating me as soon as they returned.  My expectations were quite egocentric.  I only had one letter that mentioned looking forward to dating me when he returned.

Instead these letters focused on daily life, feelings of loneliness, eagerness for home and familiar places.  One letter focused on the physical terrain of Vietnam; another one described his daily routine; still another mentioned how we could make our home town a better place when he got back. One of the guys talked about the loneliness of standing guard at night and a longing for someone who could speak English.  One letter talked about the food and customs of the Vietnamese.

Having not found what I expected, I put the letters away, but continued to think about them.  Why had I waited so long to re-read them?  Did these guys survive?  Where might they be now? What was their life after Vietnam?   Looking back fifty years now I realize how important daily coping is in a foreign place where you never knew who or what the enemy was. I now understand the horrors of war, not because I fought in them, but as someone who realizes the glory in surviving a war. I also understand that we grow and understand more when we are placed outside our familiar comfort zone and are forced to find new pieces of ourselves.  Perhaps these young guys found comfort in this strange and unwelcoming environment by writing a letter to someone ‘back home’ in order to survive another day or another week, or another year. I only hope that the letters I sent in return, as immature and awkward as they were, were somehow helpful and made life more bearable for them.

High School Proms (Banquets)

Sunday May 26th, 2013

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Hancock County did not have a Senior Prom. Instead we had an Alumni Banquet in May of each year. All alumni were invited along with the current year senior class for a dinner and dance afterward. It really wasn’t much, just a dinner in the cafeteria and a local musical group afterward in the gymnasium. Underclassmen could attend if a senior invited them.

My goal the junior year was to find a senior boy who would ask me to the alumni banquet. I knew it had to be Melvin because he was the cutest, smartest, funniest guy in school. The only problem was that all the girls wanted to be asked by Melvin for the same reason. Since competition was going to be tough I developed a ‘back-up’ plan. This back-up plan consisted of Melvin’s ugly best friend, Ralph. My only interest in Ralph’s was getting to sit with Melvin and whoever the lucky girl happened to be at the banquet. I would just pretend that I was Melvin’s date. Just as I predicted, Melvin did not ask me but Ralph did. I think Ralph knew there was little attraction between us, but he, like me, wanted to be in on the action.

Truth be known, I didn’t know much about banquets or proms so I turned to my monthly subscription of Seventeen Magazine for help in learning prom etiquette, proper dress, conversation; all the stuff that happens at a prom. Seventeen Magazine was full of helpful stuff about ‘proper prom behavior’ and what to expect on this special evening. I took it all as unquestioned ‘truth’ and followed it to a tee. The magazine and I both assumed that my date would be able to drive a car.

Ralph picked me up in the family car. He was a relatively new driver and was very cautious with the car, thus we arrived late. Parking was a struggle also. We ended up kinda sideways in a parking spot quite a distance from the cafeteria. The meal went well except that Merlin and Ralph paired up and told farm and fart jokes all during dinner. I tried my best to outshine Merlin’s date with conversation and witty remarks, but it soon became apparent that both Merlin and Ralph would have preferred to come as a couple themselves instead of asking two girls.

It was a truly miserable night. Melvin and his date danced a bit, but, of course, Ralph did not know how to dance. There wasn’t much he knew, period! When we returned back to the parked car I noticed that it was not parked in the same place as where we left it. In my astuteness I said, “Why is the car in a different spot?” Ralph shyly said, “I don’t know how to drive too good and I guess my Dad came and re-parked it.” This was the final straw! Why had I bothered with this? It certainly was not the dream date I had seen in Seventeen Magazine. Neither was it worth all the effort I had given to be with Melvin; he still had not notice that I was there. This is the first time I learned the meaning of “Second best is still not good enough”.

I was determined that my senior banquet would be TOTALLY different. This year I got asked by Herman Lawson, another senior, who had become a good friend and someone of romantic interest to me. Again I assumed he was an experienced driver and that things would go better this year. What I didn’t know was that Herman had NOT gotten his driver’s license, and we would have to double date with Jackie and Marietta who were both of our best friends. I thought it was rather odd that he had never bothered to get his driver’s license. It was also odd that he did not mention this issue until after I had agreed to go to the banquet. I had my driver’s license; I got them two weeks after my sixteenth birthday. In my thinking every senior had their driver’s license! Herman arranged for Jackie to pick up Marietta, then pick him up, and lastly, pick me up. By no means was this the romantic picture Seventeen Magazine had painted. It was beginning to look like another prom disaster.

Herman had been helping his dad haul manure on the farm the day of the prom. His dad failed to get him home in time to clean up before Jackie came to pick him up. Herman called me to explain that Jackie and Marietta would pick me up and he would have his dad drive him to the high school after he bathed, and we would just meet at the prom. To me this was weird as hell, and another prom disaster, but I was stuck with it.

Fortunately, the prom went quite well for Herman and me once he arrived. That was not especially true for Jackie and Marietta. On the way home in the back seat of Jackie’s car, Herman and I exchanged our first kisses. This is when I realized the benefit of being driven to the banquet by someone else.

I'm From #2

Thursday April 24th, 2013

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I’m from mountains, older than human life; mountains that reach high and fall deeply.

I’m from mountain streams that carve paths to creeks and rivers.

I’m from shacks and ‘lean twos’ built at the bottom of these high mountains; shacks that raised fourteen kids to mostly adulthood.

I’m from barns, raised by hard workin’ men, to house their corn, bakker, hay, and livestock.

I’m from beehives, robbed annually, by men covered from head to toe with protective clothing, carrying a smoker, and trying to remain calm.

I’m from canned beans, beets, corn, and tomatoes; put up on steamy sweaty days.

I’m from cow and horse manure removed by pitch forks and hauled by sleds to nearby gardens.

I’m from chickens, brooders, chicken houses, chicken shit, egg nests, and rich orange colored fried eggs.

I’m from milk cows; slow, lumbering, gentle cows with brown eyes that showed love to a child.

I’m from fresh churned buttermilk that took two days to clabber and thirty minutes to churn; buttermilk that was drunk by families right after churning before refrigeration.

I’m from registered bulls; bulls that were a farmer’s pride and joy and reminded them of their own reproductive role as men.

I’m from long, curving front porches where men cooled down before a dinner or supper meal; porches that showed welcome and hours of shared laughter, and porches where politics was discussed at length along with the weather, crops, gossip and new babies.

I’m from weeds; weeds that grew tall in the summer; weeds that cut your skin, made you sneeze and broke your skin out.

I’m from quiltin’ women.  Women who planned, argued, discussed patterns, sewed signature stitches; women who sunned their quilts annually both as a cleansing and ‘airing out’ endeavor and a bragging rite.

I’m from outhouses; some sturdy, modernized and clean with toilet paper hung on a large nail. Others less sturdy, filled with catalogs, waspers, crickets, yellow jackets and stench.

I’m from hog killings and smoke houses. Long cold days in November filled with the hard work of scalding, scraping, butchering and salting; and a second day of lard rendering and cracklin’ making over an open fire and a black kettle.

I’m from soap makin’ from meat scraps, lye, and rendered lard in a black kettle over an open fire near the smoke house.

I’m from the smell of burned wood.  Wood that cooked food oven an open fire; wood that smoked meat in the smoke house; wood that heated kitchens and cooked food and wood that burned best when it was seasoned and dry.

I’m from sticky dry, dusty, suffocating dirt roads in the summer, and muddy, nasty dirt roads that became impassable in the winter.

I’m from the Spring of the mountains where trees bloom, the air is pregnant and fragrant and all things breathe with life.

I’m from The Fall of the mountains where dying leaves and weeds display their foliage like fireworks on the 4th of July.

I’m from families; century old families who never knew the outside world, but knew their kinfolks and their heritage and talked for hours about their roots, world wars, diseases and deaths.

I’m from grave yards in woods and pasture fields, some so old that nobody knew who was buried there and only a smooth rock without words marked the spot. 

I’m from around the table discussions at supper where every living relative was tied to some dead relative through a story, and facts about their lives were argued and debated.

I’m from one place that shaped my total being. A place that remains always within my soul.

Mama and Contests

Thursday April 4th, 2013

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Mama was the second born of ten children.  Aunt Ruby came first, a whole two years before Mama.
According to Alfred Adler, the early psychologist and friend to Sigmund Freud, this birth order played a key role in both Mama’s and Aunt Ruby’s personality and their relationship to each other for the rest of their lives.  Adler said that the birth order in a family determines the personality of each sibling, and it especially determines the personality of the sibling that follows next in line. In other words, you could expect Mama to be the exact opposite of Aunt Ruby because she was second in line after Aunt Ruby, and she was opposite in every way. The only things these two women seemed to share in common were their love for farming and quilting, and their dedication to a life lived out one mile from the place of their birth. Their practice of farming, quilting, and the living of life was polar opposites. 
Aunt Ruby was the slob when it came to cooking, sewing, and housework.  Mama was the neat freak and the perfectionist.  Aunt Ruby was a big people person and would talk to anything that moved.  Mama was more cautious and reserved around people.  All of their lives these two women competed with each other over whose approach was the best.  They repeatedly fussed over the best way to do things and whose method was the best in the long run.  This fussing never changed anything between them despite each one being convinced that her own method was the best. It also seemed to me that they were always in competition.

By the time I entered 4th grade, I was introduced to the 4-H Club by Grace D. Walker, a Home Demonstration lady sent by the UT Extension Service.  Four H’s mission was to develop children in four areas, home, heart, health, ---------.  For girls this meant they were encouraged to develop skills in cooking, sewing, social graces, and gardening. For boys, it meant developing skills in farming, animal husbandry, leadership, and finances. Throughout the year competitions were held to allow students to display their skills in these areas.  While both boys and girls could learn skills in each other’s area, boys usually chose ‘boy skills’ and girls chose ‘girl’ skills.

I typically chose the areas of sewing and cooking.  In sewing I had learned to do embroidery, quilting, and making string pot holders. Aunt Ruby was good at crochet and knitting, but I never learned these probably because Mama didn’t think they were as important as embroidery, and pot holders.  Remember these were Ruby’s skills.  In cooking, I always chose biscuit and corn bread making, not because I did these, but because Mama wanted me to enter these contests. At the time I first entered the cornbread and biscuit contest, I had never tried my hand at baking either cornbread or biscuits, but that didn’t seem to matter to Mama.  She just told me to enter the contest.

It was February of 1957 and as the contest was drawing near Mama began to talk more about it, where it would be held, and what the prizes would be.  I asked when we would work on my learning to make cornbread and biscuits.  As was typical of Mama, she never answered my question.  She only said, “Don’t worry about it.”  So I didn’t.  On Friday night before the contest, Mama said she would make the cornbread and biscuits and have them ready for me to take to town.  I protested saying, “...but I’m supposed to make them.”  Mama again said, “Don’t worry about it.”

As promised, the next morning Mama’s biscuits and cornbread were baked, the cornbread was sliced, and both were wrapped attractively for the contest.  Daddy drove me to the high school cafeteria where the contest was being held.  Much to my surprise some of my cousins had entered the contest and some of the boys from Sneedville had also entered the contest.  I never thought that boys had an interest in this sort of thing, and I was scared of the competition. Suddenly Mama’s contributions didn’t look as good as the others, and much worse, what if I was asked if I baked them.  All the biscuit were place on one long table with the name of the student and the school.  The cornbread was similarly labeled and placed on another.  Grace D. Walker and Robert Haston were the judges.  Mr. Haston was the Country Agent from the UT Extension Service and I remembered when he had been to our farm to help Dad with veterinary duties and dehorning. I dreaded the moment they sampled Mama’s biscuits and cornbread.  I didn’t want to watch, so I just occupied my brain with thoughts about how 15 types of biscuits must taste in your mouth at one time. And I wondered how you managed to swallow 20 cornbreads without some soup beans to mix with them.

The announcement came.  Mama’s cornbread and biscuits earned blue ribbons and I walked to the front with other winners to have my picture made for the newspaper. Nobody asked if I had made them.  I was relieved of my worries. 
When Daddy and I got home Mama asked casually how it had gone and I told her I had won.  She said very little and went about her work.  She and I both knew without comment that Mama had won.

Over the years I’ve held this story and the shame I felt over the dishonesty close to my heart.  Always in the back of my head was the question, “why did Mama do this?”  This was the only time I ever knew her to be dishonest.  What was the point of this behavior in a contest that only involved school children learning to cook?

What I’ve come to understand, whether it’s the truth or not, about this is that Mama was competing to win again.  While Aunt Ruby was not in this contest in any way, Mama must have seen it as yet another competition with Aunt Ruby.  Mama seemed to always have to outshine Aunt Ruby.  Mama was an excellent cook and knew it.  Ruby wasn’t ever good enough to even compete and didn’t care about this sort of thing.  But Mama, the second birth order child, was always in competition with Aunt Ruby whether she was there or not.  Mama never made a big fuss over the wins or the ribbons; she was simply content to win quietly.  I often wonder now how many other contestants were entering their Mama cornbread and biscuits as their own and how many other kids’ Mamas were really competing with their sisters like my Mama was.

Advice from Ann Landers

Sunday March 10th, 2013

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Recently my husband and I began work on the family memoirs.  In preparation for this long process we visited the attic where all kinds of collectables were stored:  photo albums, newspaper articles, hand written genealogy notes, little boxes of lost letters, and other strange collections of objects, some of which we didn't have a clue about their significance, much less how to use them.
Of most interest to me was a little pink box that came from my bedroom dresser drawer where I kept ‘important stuff’. I had forgotten about this little pink box, but I knew it would be interesting to see what I viewed as important 50 years ago when I was a teenager. In this pink box I came across two pamphlets that I had apparently ordered from Ann Landers for the cost of 20 cents each.  One was titled, “Necking and Petting and How Far To Go” and the other was “How To Be Well-Liked”.  On the back of each of these two pamphlets was a list of other pamphlets that I had not ordered. I had checked the “How To Be Date Bait”, but this one was not in the box.  I suppose I never got around to placing that order. 
The discovery of these booklets was a tremendous delight.  I remembered ordering them.  I quickly read each one to see how ‘current’ the advice was now after fifty years. I was amazed by how well they were written and by the information’s relevancy in 2013.   Some of the advice included:

  • Sex is normal, both mentally and physically. It’s not wrong; it’s how you think about it that counts.
  • Girls who brag about getting boys ‘worked up’ are being unfair; boys who brag about their conquests are selfish and inconsiderate.
  • If a boy is too hard to keep in line, you’re better off losing him and instead looking for a guy whose values are more like your own.
  • Dating activities should include more activities than necking and petting.  Dating is about finding someone who is compatible with your values and interests.
  • Having a child before one is ready to rear a child imposes a tremendous burden on the mother and father of the child. It also imposes a burden on both sets of grandparents and the community.
  • In order to be liked by others you must like yourself first.
  • One great ‘ice breaker’ when making friends is to form the habit of asking genuine questions.
  • Friendships are easier with people who have similar interests and values.
  • Keeping confidences is important to keeping friends.
  •  Being kind and helpful makes more friends than cynicism and criticism.
  • Thinking well of others and yourself opens doors for new friendships.

To my knowledge, my mother never knew that I had these booklets, nor did she know about my worries and concerns during this time.  Mama never seemed to talk about friendships; she NEVER talked about sexuality except to say I must wait until marriage to have sex.  Her focus was always on how it would ‘ruin the family’ if I ever got pregnant and how she could not bear to have an unmarried pregnant daughter.  My decision to turn to Ann Landers for answers was largely a product of having read her column in our newspaper.  Somehow I seemed to learn to trust her answers as I read these columns each day.  Ann Landers died several weeks ago. Now I wonder how many girls, like me, turned to her daily columns and pamphlets for answers to matters of sexuality, dating, and friendships, and a thousand other topics to find answers to the questions they didn’t dare ask.

Season for high school basketball tournaments.

Saturday March 9th, 2013

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February and March in Tennessee are always the season for high school basketball tournaments.   These tournaments provide entertainment during an otherwise drab month of chilly weather and few sporting events.  In Hancock County basketball was the only sport played in school by boys and girls in the 1960's.
In 1960 girls basketball was played three-on-three half court. A line across the middle of the court divided the players into three guards and three forwards and determined the way the game would be played.  A foul would be called if any player crossed this line during play.
I was in the seventh grade and very focused on being a majorette.  My goal was to eventually become a majorette for the UT football team.  The problem was I had no way to learn majorette skills because no one in my isolated East Tennessee mountain county taught it.  I had to learn from televised half time shows of UT football games, and Cas Walkers’ Variety Show where occasionally Knoxville twirling schools showcased their best students. My learning was random at best, but at age 12, if I could imagine it, I could do it.
One day, Mr. Hubert Greene, the girl’s coach and my 6,7,8 grade teacher, came to me at 10:30 recess to ask if I would like to be on the girls’ basketball team for our three room school. I was shocked because I had no basketball skills and I wasn’t interested in basketball.  I couldn’t dribble, catch or shoot a basketball.  I really wasn’t sure about the rules either because my focus was twirling.
Mr. Hubert Greene was a stern man and I was scared of him so when he asked I said, ‘sure’, not really knowing why I had. I was the only person in 7th grade that was not on the basketball team. He immediately started a 10:30 recess training drill to teach me what I would need to know in order to start the season in October.  By the start of the season I had learned to catch a basketball, dribble while standing still and dribbling while walking IF no one was near me. I also had learned most of the rules. Mr. Hubert Greene said I would play guard and mostly sit on the bench.
The season started with me on the bench, still learning rules and trying to act like a member of the team.  We were a strong team this season and we came into the February tournament with me only having played in three games, during the last three minutes of the game; but I had learned a lot, and now I enjoyed the game of basketball.  I also liked being on a celebrity team which got the number one slot in the tournament. The way I figured it, I had it made because I would never be used for the tournament. I would just enjoy the wins from the bench.
We came to the last game of the tournament with only one loss. All we had to do for the trophy was to win the last game.  This last game was sailing along fine at half time with a 20 point lead. Mr. Hubert Greene came to me at half time and said, “If we keep doing this well, I’ll put you in near the end of the game.”  WHAT! I panicked. What would I do??? 
Quickly I figured out a strategy. First, I would pray that we would lose our lead; next, if I had to go in I would do all I could to distract the other team players; thirdly, I would hide behind taller players because I wouldn’t be thrown the ball if I could not be seen; and fourthly, I would use any skill I had to just survive.  A time out was called in the last three minutes of the game and Mr. Hubert Greene pointed at me from the other end of the bench and said, “Patsy get in there and do something; don’t let them get off a shot.” In I went, giving all I had.  I really don’t remember what I did except that I used every twirling technique I could remember. I jumped; I yelled; I threw the imaginary baton in the air and behind my back, and I was all over the court.  In my head I was on the football field doing my best majorette performance ever. The whistle blew and we won by 15 points.  The fans rushed on the court and I receded into the background. This was not my win. I had totally exhausted myself in three minutes. Other team members deserved the credit. I was just thankful to have survived.
As things calmed down, we began our walk to the dressing room to change clothes.  I was walking alone until I heard familiar footsteps coming from behind. The last person I wanted to encounter was Mr. Hubert Greene, but there he was beside me.  Finally he said, “Not bad!”  That’s all he said before he took a long pause.  Then he finished with, “Yep, not bad.  You reminded me of a windmill in a bad windstorm,” then he walked away.
I retired from basketball at the end of the 8th grade and I suppose I should tell you I never became a majorette for UT. However, I do have Mr. Hubert Greene to thank for teaching me my first lesson on survival in a high pressure situation.

The Transition from Winter to Spring

Saturday February 2nd, 2013

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At our house winter was spent with Mama and Aunt Ruby totally occupied with quilt making.  The process actually began before Christmas when they decided how many quilts tops they would make during the upcoming winter season and what patterns would be featured in these quilts.  By January they were hard at work cutting, sewing pieces together and arguing about who was the best seamstress.  

Aunt Ruby was not the perfectionist that Mama was.  From her perspective, few things in life required precision; if you could make it work in some sort of way, it was good enough; end of story.  According to Mama, Ruby’s stitches were crooked; her seams did not join as they were supposed to and she was ‘sloppy with her work’ from beginning to end. The arguments never ended with any type of resolution.  Mama fussed and gave orders; Aunt Ruby carried on with her sewing.

By February they were rushing to get their quilt work done because Spring was coming and a new focus was about to unfold.  On the cold wintery days of February they did their quilt work, but on those few warm days that occurred in February they turned their attention to getting the sweet onion bulbs in the ground that had been prepared for them in the fall.  If they got these bulbs in the ground in February they would have fresh green onions to go with their lettuce in May. The only quilting I remember them doing in March was adding some finishing touches to quilts that had been done in January and February.

The winter months on our farm also led to preserved foods rather than fresh foods.  We ate pinto beans, Irish potatoes, side meat and ham from the smoke house, and homemade hominy. We grew our own corn for the hominy.  This corn, brand named Hickory Cane, was white with larger kernels than the corn used to make our corn meal. Hominy often cooked slowly on the stove while Mama and Aunt Ruby quilted. It took at least two days to get the hominy ready to eat since one day was devoted to a ‘lye soak’ to soften the large kernels.  On the second day, after a very thorough washing off of the lye solution, the soft kernels simmered to a delicate state just perfect for consumption. Often canned mustard or turnip greens were added to the meal. Of course, a pan of fresh cornbread completed this special meal.

By March Mama’s and Aunt Ruby’s focus turned to lettuce beds, hunting for fresh creasy greens and watching the onions sprout. This was a season of sweet anticipation focused on gardening and planting; however, as cold days came and went less frequently, they were eager to get outside to begin a new season.  

As always farm life revolved around seasonal changes.  These seasonal changes were my connection to a larger universe and what I needed to learn about survival on our planet. Sometimes I think our modern lifestyle of shopping and sport events has lost touch with this connection.

Our Love of Automobiles

Saturday, January 19, 2013

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As far back as I can remember I have loved automobiles.  Unlike many of my girlfriends growing up, I could discuss cars with the boys and loved to argue styles, speed, features, and car companies, but my specialty was knowing the year, make, and model of cars. When my sons were teens I enjoyed labeling cars by their make and model as we traveled from place to place.  Once the younger son asked how I knew so much about cars.  Honestly the question took me by surprise and I had to reflect back on this interest to identify the source.  Of course, it was my family!  Isn’t that where most interests in all sorts of things begin?

Mama had nine brothers and sisters who were at our house all the time for dinner, visits, and vacations. Several of our relatives lived and worked in Indiana cities which were major General Motors manufactures. When these Indiana relatives visited, part of the conversation always drifted to their work and the latest models they were involved in producing.  We were a GM family because many family members, both male and female, helped build GM cars. Somehow being a GM family got ‘married’ to my family’s Republican political view , thus, GM cars became ‘Republican’ and Ford cars became ‘Democratic’.  When these family members married, of course, some of them married Democrats who were Ford owners. The constant thread of conversation and debate at our family visits was cars and politics.  Often the discussions were heated, but congenial, with neither side declaring victory.

They argued motors and horse power, styles and models, prices, workmanship, and political influences. I was in the background picking up bits and pieces of this conversation and forming my own ideas. My focus was the styling of the car. It had to be ‘pretty’ to me. I think this ‘pretty’ translated to mean sleek, modern, expensive looking, and elegant.  I didn’t care if it was Democrat or Republican because I had no interest in that stuff. For at least 10-15 years I purposely learned each new Ford and GM model and how to distinguish them from each other. I frequently imagined which one I would choose as my car.  Later on I began to add other makes and models of cars including foreign ones  to my repertoire. I enjoyed learning this stuff.
By early adolescence I could carry on a half-way decent conversation about cars and dream about what I would one day drive.  When I turned 16 my Dad bought a new model car, the 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle.  It was the first car my Dad had owned; he was a truck guy.  He never said it was mine.  He just bought it and began to drive it. I was impressed because it was a new model, and we were the only people at the time to have this new model in Sneedville.  While I was not particularly a GM person like my father, I was thrilled to have this car in our family.  Within six months after we got the car my father died from heart disease and the car became mine. I became the family chauffer because Mama did not drive.

My love for cars has been life-long.  I still enjoy identifying makes, models and sleek, beautiful designs.  Somewhere along the way I managed to anger my family by marrying a Democrat who drove a Ford car. Then he and I moved from the battle and bought foreign cars such as Toyota’s, Honda’s, and Nissan’s which incensed both families.

From Feuding to A Less Violent World

Saturday, December 22, 2012

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Gun violence has been a big part of my family heritage from birth onward since I am a descendant of two feuding mountain families, the Hatfield-McCoy and the Greene-Jones feuds. While these took place in the late 1880's, they have dominated many of my family and outside acquaintance discussions. Even today, everyone is curious about how these feuds started, how many were killed, who was involved, and other questions about violent mountain people.  It's hard for people to understand the influence of post Civil War time, timber rights and scare useable land, long held family grudges, and daily contact with folks whom you dislike and distrust. Then there is the biggest  factor of all, mental illness.  My great, great Grandfather was one of the primary instigators of the Greene-Jones feud, and it is abundantly clear from family stories that he was not of sound mind. My relatives today tell stories about his beliefs, delusions, and actions as a result of those delusions.  Needless to say there were no treatment options for him.  

As a result of the current debate about gun ownership, protection rights and mass shooting going on presently in our county, I feel compelled to address feuds and gun violence from our family perspective in this blog.  My family owned guns, largely shot guns, which were used to kill hogs and other animal 'varmits' that harmed our livestock and home. Occasionally Daddy squirrel hunted, but nothing more. He believe in gun ownership, but never made much "to do' about hit". I was never taught to shoot because that was not a woman's job. I was taught to stay clear of all guns and that guns are very dangerous tools capable of killing me and others.

My husband was taught to shoot; squirrel hunted as a youth, and until about 30 years ago we owned two shot guns.  By the time our children were born we began to see the need to removed the guns from our house to protect them from their own and friends curiosity.  The guns went back to my husband's family in East TN where they were safely stored away. We never saw the need to teach our sons how to shoot guns or how to use them for sport.  We wanted a different life for them, and by this time guns had been used to kill Presidents and the Vietnam War was on.  Times were changing. The horror of war and assassinations was too real and the availability and use of guns became tied to the problem.  

The topic of guns recently reappeared in my life when those stored shot guns, which had not been used in years, had to be sold to remove them from my husbands family home. The second husband who lives in the family home with my mother-in-law now has Alzheimer's disease and showed tendencies of violence.  He recently threatened to shoot some people with whom he had argued.  The sale of the guns was welcomed by me. I had never had a fondness for guns and always felt they were highly dangerous to have around. 

Currently, as a result of so many mass shooting in recent history, I have become an anti-gun activist. The incident in Connecticut has made my resolve stronger. I have heard the rhetoric of the NRA too long and know that it was never about anyone's rights or protection.  It's all about selling guns and making money for the gun lobbies. Tennessee, much to my disgust, is still in the pockets of the NRA along with tons of other states.  Supposedly, Nashville will host an NRA Convention in the upcoming future.  The Mayor and Chamber were thrilled and ready to do whatever it took to land the deal including building a new convention center to house all the attendees.  Again, the issue was about MONEY for the local economy.  Really???  We have to dance with the NRA to have a prosperous local economy??

How long will it be and how many more innocent victims will have to die before we wake up and realize that our society can no longer tolerate guns owned at random by citizens who are mentally ill, have grudges, come home from many wars with traumatized brains, and are really no different from the Hatfields', McCoys' Greene's, or the Jones', or the drug gangs that compete for clients and business. I would like to think that we are very far removed from a pioneer society; that we have rules and laws that protect us.  Will we ever see that all life is SACRED. We must accept that a more civilized way of living with each other has become a necessity.

A Hatfield Style Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2012

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While many families speak of their Christmas traditions, I can only report that we had few of them. Being a very practical minded person Mama did not believe in creating unnecessary work or confusion to life's routines.  She viewed her daily routines as necessary activities to getting a day's chores completed. She varied her schedule little on holidays or weekends. 

We were not necessarily a religious family.  Like everyone else in Hancock County we had been saved, baptized, and attended a Baptist church, but that was the end of the story.  There were no plays about the Nativity, no special music, no visits with Santa, or annual celebrations around Christmas.  The only tradition I remember coming close to Christmas was the annual winter revival at many of the Baptist churches. Our family in particular was pretty soured on religion, period.  

This attitude resulted from Uncle Chester, Aunt Ruby's preacher husband, who traveled around to lots of churches helping with revival meetings during the winter.  While I have no knowledge about when his womanizer reputation developed, by the time I came along this reputation was well established.  The whole family shared gossip about his latest affairs at different church revivals.  The stories about his escapades came from a variety of sources including neighbors, distant relatives, and friends who had been witness to some of his behavior. It seems he would preach a fiery sermon and get some of the women all worked up in a shouting frenzy, then he would praise and charm the women who did it, and after several nights he would move in with his seduction techniques. Somehow he managed to spend two or three winter months mostly away from home.  By June the gossip had traveled back to Mama and other relatives who spent the next several months clattering among themselves about his behavior and how Aunt Ruby should not put up with it. 

One of the end results from Uncle Chester's behavior was a total disdain  of religion or preachers in particular. This seemed to transform eventually into a blanketed disrespect for most religions and events associated with religion. Mama never trusted a preacher and seldom showed up for worship at any church. When this disdain was combined with a lack of other religious activities during the winter, few traditions were established surrounding Christmas.  We did not worship baby Jesus; we did not sing Christmas carols, and there was no midnight worship on Christmas Eve.  In fact we never talked about it.

For our family, Christmas was about the food, family gatherings and storytelling. Our only traditional food was Apple Stack Cake. With Mama's nine brothers and sisters and Daddy's eight, we had plenty of people who arrived for the food and fellowship.  In fact, we often had more people at our house than any church in our part of the county.  The focus was on who could share the best family story after the meal.  No presents were given.  We were our gift to each other.

I remember some years having a cedar Christmas tree which Mama chose, chopped down, drug to house, set up, and decorated herself because Daddy was busy hauling freight from Knoxville.  As she aged these trees became fewer and eventually it stopped entirely.  She said it was too much trouble because she had to do all the work. This ended the one random, and only Christmas style tradition I ever knew.  Later after I started my own family we added some of the Christmas traditions of trees, music, events, and even a nativity scene, but now that I'm older I've become Mama and can't bear the thoughts of any of this.  It's simply 'too much trouble' now.

Our Version of Krispy Creme Doughnuts

Sunday, November 18, 2012

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Today I went shopping for a birthday card for one of my elderly aunts. In doing so, I began to think about how blessed I have been to have so many aunts in my life who chose to have an impact on my upbringing. I had daily, weekly, and monthly contact with at least 8 of the 12 aunts.  Looking back now many of the skills I have such as cooking, sewing, butchering hogs and chickens, quilting, housekeeping, and entertainment are directly related to these aunts.  While Mama's influence is unquestionable, I have to acknowledge that many of my 'skill sets' are the result of one or more aunts.

It seemed to me that each Aunt had something she wanted to teach me early in life.  For Aunt Emma, the teacher, it was the love of reading and learning; for Aunt Alice it was her gift of being a seamstress who could make any garment fit a particular body shape; Aunt Hazel taught me how to save money and find bargains when shopping; Aunt Ruby shared her love for conversation and visitors.  Aunt Fay taught me joy of trying new things such as cooking new foods.

As I shopped for Aunt Fay's birthday card I remembered the day when she and I decided to make doughnuts.  Doughnuts were very popular in East TN during the 1960's because of the several Krispy Kreme facilities  in Knoxville.  For our family, and most everyone in Hancock County, a trip to Knoxville always included a stop at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts to get a box of the glazed variety to bring back home. 

One particular Saturday Aunt Fay and I decided to try making our own doughnuts.  Aunt Fay, the librarian, found a recipe, brought the ingredients to our house and set up the process. I was designated Chief Assistant and Advisor.  While Mama permitted the process she did not consent without protest.  She hated a messy kitchen; she didn't like grease splattered everywhere; the process took too long; there would be powdered sugar all over the floor and counter tops, and "there were 'two fools' in the kitchen who didn't know what they were doing in the first place."  All of these 'violations' of her kitchen space just annoyed her terribly, but occasionally you did get a hint that she was a bit curious about the whole process.  Once or twice she offered a suggestion or asked a question about why we were doing things a certain way. 

The process was long and exceeded Mama's tolerance for time and messiness. As we drowned in flour, sugar, grease, and yeast, Mama's complaining intensified.  Ultimately, some 5 or more hours later, we finally used up the dough and fried our last batch, and Mama was at her wit's end.  I remember our version of doughnuts to be lacking in both taste and appearance compared to the real Krispy Kreme version.  I'm not sure if we ever took time to evaluate our experience, but Mama was more than willing to share her evaluation of what she called, "The Doughnut Mess". For months afterward she was still talking about it. 

Throughout my childhood as I learned one skill after the other I had to contend with Mama's evaluation of my learning experiences from these dear Aunts. Sometimes the protest came from me as I was 'encouraged' to learn a skill that I had little interest in learning.  "Raising Patsy", a phrase Mama used to refer to all my growing and learning process, was not always pleasant or fun, but luckily I had an abundance of very capable Aunts who took over when Mama bailed out of the process on what she called, 'reasons of insanity'.
I think every child should have involved aunts who can teach ignorant, unlearned children skills they never knew they would need to learn in the first place.

Thanksgiving Hancock County Style

Monday, November 5, 2012

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Modern culture gives a great deal of publicity to the Thanksgiving Holiday with shopping being its main focus.  While elementary schools still teach the story of the first Thanksgiving, most kids today know it as Black Friday, or the day Mom and the rest of the family goes Christmas shopping.  

Sixty years ago in Hancock County Thanksgiving was the deadline for farmers  to have their crops put away before the hard frost hit and the time when grading tobacco was to be completed.  We did not entertain relatives at Thanksgiving unless they were there to help get hog killing done or to finish tobacco grading. Travel outside the county was rare at this time of year. The only traffic jams I heard about around Thanksgiving were those at the tobacco warehouses as farmers rushed to get their graded tobacco on the warehouse floor for the first sale. This first sale was important because the income from the sale allowed the farmer to be able to spend for the upcoming Christmas and be able to get his debt paid off on the crop he had just harvested.  If he missed the first sales of December then he and his family had to wait until after Christmas to celebrate.

Hog killing was THE big deal at our house because it usually took three days to fully process the meat for preservation.  Each year we killed two hogs, usually of the same breed, each weighing roughly 400 pounds. We waited to kill the hogs until we had a decent cold spell so the meat would 'keep' (not spoil without refrigeration). The first day consisted of killing, scalding, scraping, and butchering of the hogs.  Hams, shoulders, and bacon were salted and hung in the smoke house.  Sausage meat, intestines, organ meat and the head and feet were stacked in the smoke house to be ground, cooked or processed the next day. On the third day we rendered lard, canned or froze the sausage, and made souse meat. Relatives and neighbors exchanged help with each other in order to receive help with their own process.  If there was any type of meal celebration at the end of the process it was assumed that the meat dish would be some type of fresh hog meat.

Invariably, each year some incident occurred during the processing of the meat to provide us with a story to share.  One year the gun used to shoot the hogs misfired, scaring the hogs who had to be corralled and brought back to the hog pin; another year the scaffolding used to hang the hog for butchering broke and the hog crashed to the ground midway through scraping. Luckily no one was injured.  The incident that I remember the most from hog killing involved Aunt Ruby who accidentally punctured a hog gut while trimming away the fat around it.  The stinch was so bad that we had to leave the house for several hours until the house was 'aired out'. Mama fussed for days over this incident saying, "If Ruby had been paying attention to what she was doing in the first place, it never would have happened!" Mama always was eager to find fault with Aunt Ruby so she could elevate her own visions of herself as 'perfect' at everything. 

During my growing-up the words hog killing and Thanksgiving were synonymous. The only celebration we had was in the knowledge that one of the last fall tasks for the year had been completed. As one seasonal song says, "all was now gathered in" and we were ready for the long, cold, dark season of winter. It's hard for me still to think of Thanksgiving as a special holiday like Christmas because of its association with work and preparation for winter. And I don't think I will ever be able to grasp the modern focus of Thanksgiving and shopping frenzies. I suppose that what we all end up celebrating in any holiday is our memories of that holiday from a variety of learned experiences.

Speaking of Politics.......

Thursday, October 18, 2012

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Homogenous is the word I would use to describe my growing up years in East Tennessee.  In fact, that word would describe most of the US during the 1950's.  Everyone tried to look, act, and think like the folks that were most like them and to put down those 'not like' them.  There was tremendous conformity in all parts of society; Tennessee was no different.  The only differences expressed in Tennessee were those used to describe the state as 'three states, east, middle, west'.  This description meant that each differed significantly politically, racially, occupationally, and geographically. Within each of these 'three states' everyone copied everyone else.

East Tennesseans were small truck farmers because their land was tied to mountains, valleys and hollers. They grew corn, tobacco, cattle. They were Republicans because they fought with the Union during the Civil War and they thought of themselves as stubbornly independent to the end. NO need to trust anyone. West Tennesseans were Democrats because they fought with the South during the Civil War. Their land was flat, sandy, and well suited for cotton. They believed cooperation was better than arguing especially if you were dealing with people that accepted the same racial beliefs that you held.  Geographically, Middle Tennessee was a mixture of East and West; politically it was more Democratic like West Tennessee.

For as long as I can remember I was told I was a Republican by my father and my relatives.  I knew that Democrats were bad. Daddy said he would consider me and my older brothers traitors and enemies if we ever said anything positive about Democrats. During my growing up I was told there were 4 Democrats in our county and given their names.  My father said, "Patsy, they's two things I never, ever, want you to do: "You must never drive a Ford, (we were a General Motors family), and you must never marry a Democrat!" Because Daddy was a community leader he ranted daily about 'them awful Democrats' and 'them sorry Ford trucks.' I knew doing either of these would get me kicked out of our family.

In high school I encountered my first Democrat teacher, Mr. Seals, who taught history, and I got to hear the other side. Students argued daily with him.  I was only a listener in these debates while other students told Mr. Seals he was flat out wrong. He rarely became agitated; he just spoke his side back to their arguments. I remember his class as being in a constant uproar with discussions and arguments. I also got to know the Democrat students in my class, especially, Herman Lawson who was the only Democrat in class who sided and argued with Mr. Seals. Of course he would be a Democrat because his Dad was one of the four Democrats in the county! I don't remember thinking a lot about what was said in class, but I do remember that the class stood out to me in some unidentifiable way. Perhaps it was the new ideas. 

By the end of the senior year Herman asked me to the Alumni Banquet. We ended up deciding on the same college in East Tennessee.  College was the thing that shook my Republican world in a hard way. I loved psychology and sociology and nothing that I had been taught about politics at home fit into what I was now being taught by my professors.  It was a new framework for viewing things that I had never considered before. The more I learned about conflict over resources, religions, wars, human rights and sharing the earth with other people, the more I knew I did not embrace Republican ideas. Night after night I thought about these new ideas. Herman and I often talked for hours about a variety of social and political issues.  We also argued and debated continually. By the time we graduated college and got married, I was totally committed to the Democrat cause. I felt I finally had chosen my own political beliefs for the first time rather than just echoing the family beliefs.  

Daddy never knew about my conversion because he died before I completed high school. I suppose this worked out just fine because I didn't have to get disowned by my father or face challenges from other family members. Much to my surprise my brothers and other relatives accepted my change without arguement. Oh, by the way, our first car as a couple was a FORD.

Appalachian Creasy Greens and THE Worm

Sunday, October 7, 2012

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Well, it's fall again in my part of the universe. I awoke this morning with memories of seasonal changes in food in my native county of Hancock. I don't assume these food changes are any different from other parts of Appalachia or other Southern regions because the culture is a widely shared one. Fall always meant getting the crops in and finishing up the garden before the first good hard frost. 

By September and October the food focus at our house had moved from fresh beans, corn and cucumbers to a variety of fresh greens, including mustard, turnip and wild creasy greens. The sweet potatoes had been dug and were being put away for the winter. These sweet potatoes were a perfect combination with crowder peas which, incidentally, are not the same thing as black-eyed peas.  Our daily menus changed with the arrival of each new season and were always welcomed. In October Mama and Aunt Ruby could be found roaming through the cut corn and tobacco patches in search of creasy and other wild greens. As soon as one of them discovered a new patch of wild greens they ran across the road to announce their find. As a child I often went on wild greens searches and soon became quite adept at knowing a weed from these delightful delicacies.

Once these wild greens were brought inside for cleaning and processing a whole new conversation emerged around making sure the greens were ready to be cooked. Cleaning was VERY important. It really boiled down to washing off dirt from the broad leaves and a search for small green worms that were often hidden somewhere on the leaves.  Mama loved to give lectures and demonstrations on how to find these small worms. She always stressed the importance of finding them so they would not be cooked with the greens. 

Also, there was one or two stories sprinkled into these lectures about somebody in the neighborhood who was not 'clean' with their greens, and how during a meal a dead worm was discovered floating around while eating the greens.  It seemed to me that this story was there for the 'gag and fear factor' to the whole process.  Often a comment was made like, "Why, I wouldn't eat a meal at HER house at all because so and so said they found a worm in the greens."  This comment appeared to me to be the ultimate cooking insult. Honestly, this comment is absurd to me now because it would take a lot of effort to find this so-called worm, and the search for it would be pretty obvious to the host and everyone else. I mean, isn't the the meaning behind, "Quit picking in your food! Just eat it, for God's sake!" a warning so that the host won't be offended? As much as I love fresh greens in the fall of the year, I still live in fear of serving them to my guests because someone might discover a worm I overlooked. 

Incidentally, Mama believed she NEVER cooked a worm in her greens, EVER; and that Aunt Ruby probably cooked several of them because she was not careful ENOUGH. This was one of many ways she distinguished herself as a superior cook to Aunt Ruby. As a psychologist I understand that the second child (Mama) always tries to unseat the first child (Aunt Ruby) from the throne. Or maybe this was nothing more than two mountain women living out life in a culture that is constantly in search of cooked worms in fresh greens.

A Much Larger World

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

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Growing up as an isolated child of Appalachia, I knew little about the larger world around me until my three much older brothers enlisted in the Army and Air Force. By the time I was 5 they were college graduates; by the time I was 6 the Korean War was on, and by the time I turned 8 all three had enlisted or been drafted. My Mama never did crying 'fits' like other women were prone to do when children left home because she kept her emotions tightly in rein, but when each of the three left for military service I saw her real tears and felt her worry in an intense way.

Their college degrees allowed each of them to serve the military in other ways besides battle. They traveled extensively in Europe and other places with their military assignments. As they traveled each of them remembered us back home and sent many dolls, clothing, and toys from each country they visited. What a thrill it was to receive a package from them at least once or twice each year!  On furloughs they came home with slide shows for the family and neighbors as well.  We made a screen out of an old sheet hung on the side of our house and placed lawn chairs in a semi-circle around it. During these outdoor summer slide shows I got to hear stories about the countries they visited, their people, customs, foods and interests. These slide shows were the only world geography lessons I ever remember receiving.  School had given me US geography and pictures of our national parks, but no facts about other countries overseas.

Eventually my brothers returned home, then moved away to take jobs in other cities, and got married.  Occasionally, there would be some conversation about their military experience or how their current job connected to what they did in the military, but I don't remember us talking much about their European travels after that.  Once back in the US they took new vacations and traveled a lot with their new work. The conversation now was about those trips.  

Within ten years of their return from the military I also was ready to leave the nest and my Appalachian home. By this point my father had died so I chose a college within two hours of home and visited Mama as often as I could.  I married a week after graduation and moved away to new cities beyond Appalachia. I always felt proud of my roots, my Appalachia, and the experiences I had in the mountains.

As I look back on choices my husband and I have made for ourselves and our sons I now can see the enormous impact of my brother's travels on my life.  For as long as I can remember, I have longed to see a much larger world than where I lived at the time.  Our first child had his first birthday celebration on the road and now works in the travel industry. The second son has done service projects all over the world. During our summer, Christmas, and spring breaks we were in an airplane or car headed for a new adventure. Now in retirement I struggle to get to all the wonders still awaiting me before I become too old to travel.

Mama never understood my love for travel and preferred I spend my free time all with her.  I did the best I could to balance my own wandering side and her need to stay in the same place.  A long time ago I remember one of my brother's saying that our father had wanted to travel and move away from Appalachia when he was a newlywed, but Mama refused to leave her birthplace. While this was a sad story shared only with my brother, I have kept it close to my heart. I know that he made a choice to stay home.  Perhaps he was able to survive and to get his travel needs met through the slide shows, the stories, and the gifts from foreign countries just like I was. I think there will always be a piece of my father and my brothers that travels with me wherever my husband, my kids, and my grandchildren roam. The influence of my brothers travel, the outdoor slide shows, the conversations about countries far away, and my father's desires to travel has had a powerful impact on my life.  Daily I'm thankful for their gift of wanting to see a larger world.

Keeping THEM Alive

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

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For the last 10 or more years I have been lost in the world of storytelling.  It began when I confronted one of those career crises that people have when they get a bad boss for several years and you're too far into the career to quit or retire so you decide the answer is to 'ride it out'. The new question becomes, "How will I ride this out and keep my sanity at the same time?"  In the middle of this mess I decided to take a weekend to go to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN.  I had heard that this is was one of those events you must experience before you die.  Totally convinced that nothing could really be THAT great, I went rather than stay home and rant about my mess at work.  

By no means was I a stranger to storytelling because that was all we ever did when relatives visited our house. Every relative shared some true story about every other relative, and many times the stories were repeats from several months or years back. The odd part about this was that none of the family members ever said, "Are we going to talk about Uncle Link, AGAIN?!" Or, "You told that story last year."  It simple was never said, and amazingly, we seemed to enjoy it just as much the fourth time as we had the first time.  Even now this attitude of listening catches me by surprise.  What were we doing and why were we doing this ritual?  We talked about living relatives, dead relatives, odd neighbors, stupid decisions and actions, everyday life, illnesses, church gossip, family gossip, etc.  I have no doubt that most families have talked about all of these things as well.

As a family we loved to laugh.  The funnier the story the better we liked it so eventually some relatives were always called upon to tell their best or funniest story.  During the telling new insights into humor would be gained and the stories just seemed to get better each year. Every now and then someone had a new catastrophe to share which was a real highlight.  This new story would then be added to the collection. By the time I was grown I knew my 16 aunts and uncles, my grandparents, my parents, and a few great uncles and aunts who had 'interesting' personalities by the stories about them. Many of these people died before I was born or before I could remember so stories were the only way I knew them.

So I attended the storytelling festival that escape weekend, expecting to be entertained, but not swept away.  I was deeply moved by the tellers, the stories, and the healing that began to happen as I listened to each new teller. I found my laughter again and the hurt moved out. I became re-acquainted with my roots, my heritage and my life before work, kids, marriage and career took over. I left the festival having touched my roots in a deep way.

Back in my so called 'real life' I knew I was reconnected to the family I left years ago in East Tennessee, and I had found a voice within me that could not be quiet. I simply had to share this former life somehow with my students and my world now.  So the journey began with awkward attempts to write stories, then storytelling workshops, books about storytelling around the world, more storytelling events, and more storytelling festivals.  Finally I found the courage to write one reasonably complete story, then another, and later I stumbled through the first telling of a story.  

It's now been fifteen years since the discovery of my life as lived through stories. I survived the bad boss, the thirty year career, my kids launch from sports into career life, and their marriages. For some reason the last couple of years my focus has been on Mama, Aunt Ruby, Daddy, relatives, and our neighbors. Their voices, advise, and 'truths' constantly visit my thoughts in random ways. In time each of these find their way into a story.  Sometimes I often reflect on the 'why' of this process and so far the only answer I have found is that these memories, the stories, the humor, the insight is simply my way of keeping THEM alive after they are long gone. I suppose, in turn, they are still a huge piece of my life source now. I'm simply amazed that their nurture is still supporting me.