Everyone Loves a Parade

I would have thought that by the time I had reached the age I am now, I would be able to walk through my own house without much fanfare, and certainly without chaperones. But apparently, I was wrong. Sometimes I feel as though I need a parade leader’s scepter…you know, something befitting the pomp and circumstance that is the journey to my refrigerator, or bathroom, or laundry room, or anywhere since I can’t seem to move without an entourage.

 

 

 

 

Tasteful Memories

Have you ever thought about the powerful connection between smell and memory? One whiff of a food or perfume and, boom, you can be instantly transported back to a specific point in your life. Maybe childhood, maybe a person you knew, maybe a trip abroad, maybe the college dorms.

Well, it’s not just smell that can flood your brain with memories. Taste can do this as well. I realized just how true this is a few days ago when I was at an old-fashioned diner serving a full, honest-to-goodness country breakfast.

As the waitress brought out the plates, piled high with freshly baked biscuits, pancakes, fried eggs, and fried potatoes, I breathed in deeply, and when I dug into the food in front of me, I was transported back to breakfast at my grandmother’s.

As my regular readers know, both of my parents are from West Virginia, and we’d spend summers there – with both sets of grandparents. My mother’s mother, Grandma Jimmie would make a full country breakfast with everything made from scratch: biscuits, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, beyond amazing gravy.

As I sat there, in this country diner, I felt a wave of nostalgia so intense, and I swear I could see that old kitchen, the coal stove, and envision myself sitting there at their table with my grandfather and the rest of the family waiting impatiently for breakfast to hit the table. And when it finally did? Oh boy, pure heaven!

That breakfast – not just any breakfast, mind you, but my grandmother’s breakfast, is a comfort food from my childhood that stands above all the rest. My own mother’s gravy and biscuits (not to mention her fried potatoes – to die for, yum!) summons up the same memories, and well, it’s more than just food, really. Although, it’s some damn fine food, I must say!  It thrills me to no end when I walk in my mother’s door to those delightful smells, knowing what I’ll be sitting down to when it’s time to eat.

It’s not just fresh-baked biscuits or the smell of bacon that reminds me of West Virginia, though. (And while I say these things remind of West Virginia, and I guess they do, it’s just a place – what they really remind me of are childhood, of growing up, and family. When I say West Virginia, to me, it encompasses so much more than just a place.) The taste of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries remind me of West Virginia too. Raspberry and blackberry bushes grew on the side of the mountain at my mother’s old stomping grounds. Blueberries flourished in the pastures where my father grew up. I had the best of both worlds and believe me, I tried my best to eat myself sick at each place.

Sadly, this is a memory that I’m hard pressed to duplicate these days – store bought berries are just not the same, they lack flavor and what flavor there is, is just…different. But luckily, I’m in a rural area and have options, so sometimes when I see them at local farmers’ markets, I’ll stock up on homegrown grown fruit, and all is right with the world again.

Speaking of fruit, I have yet to find a peach that will rival the fruit from my mother’s peach tree from our own backyard, but I try…oh trust me, I try. But for just an instant, with that initial bite of each one I try, year in and year out, it throws me back to a carefree time when that tree still stood. Why is it we don’t appreciate these things more when we actually have them?

Comfort foods are a wonderful thing. The warmth from the nostalgia and emotions they inspire runs deep and a world of hidden memories is just waiting to be unlocked with a smell or taste.

Some Saturday Night Excitement

Does it count if I’m wearing heels and drinking Bailey’s on ice out of a fancy glass à la June Cleaver? Would June Cleaver even drink Bailey’s Irish Cream? I doubt it. Martinis were more her style. Yuck. Although I had a chocolate Martini one time that was kickin’. But nah. I’ll just stick with the Bailey’s. Now, what was I doing again?

 

Hello Karma – Nice to Meet You

The other day my dog, Rufus, took a little spill off the bottom step that goes out my back door. It was such a short distance that I knew right away he was okay. Still, bless his heart, I think he was upset that I didn’t help him up quicker (not from lack of effort on my part, trust me).  Seriously, he fell all of a little bit and even then, he landed on a bag of soft potting soil, you know, the good kind that is mostly air and fluff anyway. I’ll admit, a quickly stifled giggle did escape when I saw him lying there on my gardening supplies gazing up at me with his big, brown eyes. Despite knowing there was just no way he could be hurt, and further knowing that had he wanted to, he could have simply gotten up on his own, I nonetheless dropped my end of the leash that was hooked to his harness and rushed over to placate his pride.

Despite my loving assistance, I guess he was offended by how long it still took me to get there, because he gave me a stricken look me as if to say, “Are you seriously moving that slow? Oh, the betrayal.” I picked him up, brushed him off, snuggled with him, and then he was off doing whatever it is he wanted to do in the yard as if nothing happened. I even gave him an unexpected snack when we went back into the house. No harm, no foul.

Or so I thought.

On Monday, I fell face-first from the TOP step of a 4-step staircase right onto a concrete patio. No rhyme. No reason. No one pushed me. I didn’t trip. My feet just didn’t work. Go figure. I didn’t land on my face, thank the gods that be, but I definitely messed up my hands, wrists, and knees. So yeah. Hello there, karma. Nice to meet you. My bad for not taking Rufus’ misstep a bit more seriously.

I thought the fall was the worst part, but there’s been a ripple effect of delayed pain that’s been even worse. The day after the fall my back decided to get into the game too. Maybe I twisted it funny. Although really, whoever thought it was funny should have their head examined.

To top it all off, guess who was walking around the yard without a care in the world while I was trying (and failing) to get back up on my feet. You guessed it…Rufus. There I am, flailing around on the ground, unable to get up, and after a while, starting to give serious thought to, “Gee, maybe I should just stay outside for today,” and there’s Rufus idly traipsing around, sniffing the grass, and looking for squirrels, leash dragging behind. Not one ounce of concern for his ailing mom, no sir. I’m not going to say I deserved his cold shoulder, but damn, that was a reality check. Thankfully I still had Petra, who stayed glued by my side worried about me and whining. Guess who got a snack that day when we finally made it back in the house!?

There’s always a silver lining, regardless of how bad a situation is. The blessing in all of this was ultimately my laziness. Yes, you read that right. Laziness. You see, all of this happened on Monday. Well, on Sunday, I never finished the laundry, so I was out of shorts. Hey, don’t roll your eyes at me. It was just one of those weekends. So, anyway, even though it was certainly hot enough outside to warrant shorts, I was in fact wearing pants. It was a good thing too or my knees, which took the brunt of the fall, would be scraped to hell in addition to being just swollen. Fun science fact: concrete is hard. Who knew? Another fun fact: old concrete is jagged and crumbly. Even worse.

The lesson I’ve learned here is that laziness is not always a bad thing after all. But not being able to move as fast as The Flash to grab your pet when he missteps to save his pride? That can be a serious problem.

The Man I Knew as Grandpa

I never got the chance to meet my biological grandfather, Arbrie Emil Mills. He was killed when a coal car cut off both his legs when he was working in the mines of West Virginia in 1942. It was the definition of a tragedy. My Grandma Jimmie was pregnant with my Mom at the time and it took my Grandmother many, many years to recover from her loss and move forward. Eventually, Grandma Jimmie did remarry — my mother was married herself and had a family of her own by then. My brother was 7 and I was 5 the year we met the big hulking bear of a man we knew as Grandpa Walker. Everyone called him Clark but his name was Champ. And he was as big as a mountain. He must have really loved my grandmother to plunge headfirst into the craziness that was my family. That, or he was already crazy to begin with.

I can’t say what kind of man Arbrie was since he had passed long before I ever existed, but I can say with certainty that Clark Walker seemed tailor-made for my Grandma Jimmie. My only wish is that they had found each other sooner so my grandmother wouldn’t have been alone for so long. She was a firecracker who loved to argue and thanks to her sharp mind and quick wit, she was good at it. Clark put up with all her quirks and shenanigans — in fact, he seemed to enjoy smoothing her ruffled feathers. The household walked on eggshells — make that quilt-covered eggshells — all morning until she woke up, which was usually around noon. (I tell you what though — looking back on it now as an adult with kids, my Grandma Jimmie spent the better part of her life busting her ass to put food on her family’s table, shoes on her kids’ feet, and did everything she needed to do to keep her family together in the mountains of West Virginia, so if she wanted to sleep till noon later in life, I say, more power to her.)  But, my Grandpa never questioned her need for sleep, never tried to change her routine. He just accepted it as the way things were and put up with it because he knew it made her happy. The sun rose and set around my grandmother as far as Grandpa was concerned.

Need an example? How about this…ever heard of a Jimmy truck? They don’t make them anymore, but they did back in the day. Grandpa bought one of these trucks (in cash!) just because it had my Grandma’s name emblazoned on the back. Well, slightly misspelled, but still. His heart was in it.

Perhaps the clincher that proved just how much he adored my grandmother was the fact that on top of living with her and her persnickety ways, he also lived with my great-grandmother, Grandma Mooney. I’m sure you remember her. Yup, Grandma Mooney of the Vinegar Valentines and the Spooky Charades was in the house as well and she had quite the attitude. She was also a little instigator. No, really!  Nothing pleased her more than starting something between my grandparents and then sitting back to watch the resulting chaos, coffee cup in hand and a smile on her face. In spite of all this, my grandfather took damn good care of her when she got sick later on. All because he loved my grandmother with a love that was fierce.

Grandma Jimmie and Grandpa Walker looking cool

Growing up, I thought Grandpa Walker was IT. I remember he gave me a kitten when I was little that I wasn’t supposed to have. (He gave my brother one too, but my brother was deathly allergic — which made shoving the kittens in his face really, really fun, but I digress.)  We couldn’t take them home of course…thanks Keith, for that. But we enjoyed them each summer.

While I was small, most summers found me by his side, when I wasn’t chasing lizards or looking for crawdads or swinging from grape vines. When I was still a little girl, it might’ve been the first summer I met my grandfather even — so maybe 5 — I remember trying to cut my fried eggs with a fork and knife just like my dad. My dad was amazing with a knife and fork — he could cut anything and everything slick as butter while being quiet as a mouse. It was truly impressive, and I always wanted to be like him. But, I could never come close to being as fast and neat as he was and most of the time I just ended up making a big racket. It was certainly annoying for everyone in the kitchen. So anyway, here I am cutting my fried eggs like a maniac and my father ummm…chastised me, yeah, we’ll go with that, chastised me for making so much noise. And sitting in “my spot” next to my grandfather as I was, he yanked my chair closer to him and told my dad in no uncertain terms to “leave her be and let her cut her eggs however she wants” — which was awe-inspiring really because I was little and my dad was…well DAD. You simply didn’t talk back to him.  Clearly Grandpa didn’t get THAT memo. Or if he did, he didn’t care one bit.

As I’ve written about before, for a part of his life my grandfather drank beer like some people drink soda, or coffee. He basically just drank the stuff all day long. It took an enormous amount (about the size of a silo) to give him a buzz, but eventually he would start feeling the effects, and when he did, he’d get on a musical bent. When this creative urge came across him, out came the banjo which he was really quite good at playing. The tunes he chose? Yeah, well, those started out pretty good too, more on the bluegrass side but that was okay, and then it would slide into gospel, getting faster and zanier the more he drank. Verses would eventually repeat themselves, words would slur or get mixed up. Sometimes it was an outright free-for-all of different songs thrown together as one. What verses he couldn’t remember, he made up on the fly.

I remember my mother made a recording of one of his more off the rails lively sessions and took it to my Aunt Bunny for her to listen to — back when cassette recordings were still the rage. I got so angry because by the end of the impromptu concert they were in tears laughing at his madcap musical antics. I snapped at them over it and ended up paying the price. And of course, looking back on it, it WAS funny…hilarious even. But this was my grandfather they were laughing at! No-one was supposed to be laughing at him!

Hey, he had my back – I had his.

my favorite picture

 

The Best Room Ever

Okay, I need everyone to pay attention because what I’m about to tell you may be the single most important argument to ever be made in the history of debate…

The kitchen is the best room in any house. Period.

Now I know I’ve started a frenzy among all the “man cave,” “she shed,” “bedroom” loving people, but I hereby stick to my claim that the kitchen is the best room in any house ever.

Think about it! The kitchen really is the focal point for all the activity inside any house or dwelling. It’s where all the action takes place. Sure, the living room sees a lot of feet shuffling through and a lot of butts on furniture but the entertainment is mostly derived from the television. All the *real* action is happening inside the kitchen.

I’ll break it down for you because I’m not leaving until I’ve convinced every single one of you that I’m right… Okay, granted, you could close this blog at any time so I guess I can’t really enforce that… so… I’ll just let it go and continue with making my point… hopefully you’ll stick around.

Let me start with a little background –

Growing up, we would visit my grandparents every summer. Both sets of grandparents, as loyal readers already know, lived in rural West Virginia, my parents’ old stomping ground. My maternal grandparents (Grandma Mooney and company!) had a pseudo-living/sitting room set up where the dining room should have been – but it was more of an extension of the kitchen. It’s just how the old farm-house was made. The first floor was just one big room basically, with the kitchen proper to the right and the dining room/sitting room to the left – no walls in between and close enough that you could fling a coffee cup from the sitting room and hit my grandmother in the head as she made breakfast (not that I would suggest doing that, however, if you wanted to live past the first serving of eggs). The centerpiece of the sitting room was a huge, round dining table made out of solid wood that I remember always had a green gingham vinyl, felt-backed tablecloth in place.

If you ever peeked in the windows, you would find everyone sitting around that table, playing cards, chattering up a storm, eating fried eggs, or watching the smallest t.v. I think I’ve ever seen. I’m not even sure it was in color. It got maybe three channels. There was a living room in the house – but it was on the second floor. And I never once saw anyone up there, except for me when I was playing house. No, being near the kitchen was the place to be.

In my childhood home, there is a family room and my parents are quite happy there whenever they’re watching t.v. But when company comes – including my grownup self – we sit at the kitchen table, coffee cups in hand, hopefully potato soup (if I’m lucky) or some other gastronomical treat from my mother’s massive repertoire in front of us, and talk the day away.

Like my parents, a great-aunt (Grandma Mooney’s daughter) of mine moved from West Virginia to the concrete jungle of the city, Baltimore to be exact. My parents eventually opted for a more suburban route, but my aunt and her family stayed in the city. My aunt kept her country ways though and sure enough, life took place in the kitchen. Visiting her every Sunday saw us sitting around the kitchen table, eating homemade crab cakes, polish sausage, and drinking coffee or sweet tea.

Now, speaking of kitchens, West Virginia women know how to cook. Between my great-grandmother, my grandmothers, my mother, and my great-aunt…these ladies took comfort food to a whole new level. So who wouldn’t want to hang out in the kitchen and be a taste-tester or gobble up the so-called rejects of whatever meal they were preparing? Or if you were brave, sneak something off a serving plate before it made its way out to the table?

But there is more to it than food, so much more. For me the heart of the house is the kitchen. We’re a family in the kitchen. Good news, bad news, shared joys and sorrows – all happened in the kitchen. Oh, we had food, we’re a family that loves food, but in the kitchens of my childhood, we also had camaraderie – we shared laughter and gossip, tears and heart to heart talks. Life was lived in the kitchen. Still is, in so many ways.

So, for those of you trying to make it work in that cramped two-bedroom apartment the size of a photo-booth, and especially those of you with lots of room to spread out (you know who you are…you can go a full day and not see another member of your household or family) – here’s a piece of advice for whatever it’s worth.

Hang out in the kitchen. Maybe cook dinner together every once in a while, or throw together some snacks and play cards or a board game at the table – whip up something awesome, and I’m not just talking food.