I loved it when Uncle Clarence and Aunt Reba, Mama’s sister, came from Frankfort because they seemed to bring some excitement each time. Uncle Clarence always got his car stuck in the creek and the nearest neighbor to the creek crossing, would answer Daddy’s call with, “Guess Clarence got stuck again.” I loved the glamour of Aunt Reba’s silk stockings and hand made shoes and Uncle Clarence’s fancy city shoes and his diamond ring. I was to learn later that they weren’t wealthy, just a bit pretentious compared to my parents.
Then Uncle Orbie, the brother, came with his daughter from Evansville and we so loved to see our cousin Joann. We rarely got to see her so it was a special treat.
Those were the immediate family but there were others, Pa’s nephew and his family and a brother and family might come for a day. Ma’s dining table held a lot of folks. Then there was a big kitchen table that she always set for the children. Children ate first at Ma’s. She always told us that when she was a little girl, she ate last and her mother always said, “Sally, you can clean the carcass” and then she couldn’t eat. So Ma’s grandchildren were very special.
My family always came a few days early so Mama could help prepare the food. But it was always understood who was boss in that kitchen. Ma was very, very organized and her baking was always done well before Thanksgiving. She could keep her pies and cakes in the dining room where there was no heat unless all the doors were left open. That old pie safe would be full. She made wonderful cakes such as the Lady Baltimore and the Lord Baltimore, jam cakes, orange and pineapple cakes and the huge fresh coconut cake and others.
Before she started her cooking, Pa would use a little hammer and an old flat iron to crack walnuts and I helped pick out the walnut meats, which she used in cakes. She always had a huge white coconut cake made with fresh coconuts and I also had a big part in the coconuts. She saved the coconut milk, except for the bit that I drank when she wasn’t looking. I could open, peel and grate coconut when just a little girl.
Ma raised a few turkeys and ducks to have for just such occasions. Later, she picked out some hens that weren’t laying and they made it to the table. Of course, there were always Pa’s wonderful hams, canned tenderloin and sausage, which Ma made. I have never eaten sausage as good as Ma’s. She did all the seasoning at hog killing time. She cooked and canned some sausage at the time it was made and Pa smoked some. So there was a wide variety of meat.
It still seems a miracle that Ma could cook such wonderful food on a little wood range. The kitchen was not huge but it was bigger than modern kitchens and then she had one end of the back porch boarded up and she put shelves all around that section for cooking vessels and canning jars, etc. All was organized for her convenience.
Most of the food at that old house was grown there and canned or dried by Ma. They had to buy cranberry sauce, coffee, coconuts and a few other things but those wonderful meals were due to their industry.
Ma was constantly thinking of something new to try. Once she decided to grow her own cotton to use to line her quilts. She got the seed, leaned how to prepare the cotton and tried it between the quilt and the lining. It didn’t work because it wadded up when washed but she had tried it.
Ma was a gentle, quiet, and very beautiful woman, with perfect skin, even in her old age. The one thing she demanded at her table, and, for that matter, at her house, was that there would be no arguing. Now, Uncle Clarence worked at the State Capitol, Pa was a died in the wool Republican and Daddy was a Democrat who loved to argue politics. So there was bound to be some fireworks but one look from her could stop all talk of politics. In her sweet, quiet way, she had a lot of control, a lesson for all women.
I will think of those two wonderful, loving grandparents when I celebrate Thanksgiving this year.
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