THE LAST DINNER TABLE

her husband had a feeding tube the last ten years of his life

cancer of the larynx took away from him the ability to speak or eat

and tube feeding kept him going

***

the patient said she looked back on the years before cancer came

and remembered how

she was always busy being a wife and a mother

a farmer husband and five children kept her busy in the kitchen

and they always enjoyed their fellowship around the table

***

the day came when she set a full dinner table as she always had done

an abundance of riches

fried chicken and mashed potatoes

butterbeans and squash

sliced tomatoes and spring onions

bread-and-butter pickles

cornbread and sweet tea

chocolate cake and pecan pie

***

her husband walked into the kitchen and saw the spread

he knew he could not enjoy

and mouthed these words:

I could eat every bite of this

***

the patient said

her heart broke

and

that was the last time she laid out food as a spread

*****

How to say this without sounding tactless? This patient appeared to be just an ordinary elderly woman…small-boned, grizzled short hair, no makeup, plain of dress, quiet of demeanor. You’d see her sort pushing the buggy in the grocery store and then getting into a serviceable, old four-door car.

So what was special about this woman? Well, you’d just have to get to know her, but it didn’t take long being around her to become enamored with her spirit.

She was not particularly “depressed” at being in the hospital…she just accepted it as a part of life that the human body will fail us at times.

She had a dry wit about her that peeked out, once you got to know her. She didn’t let being in her early nineties take away her love of seeing a little humor in everyday life situations.

She had a love for her family, and they for her. Her children and in-laws were faithful “spend-the-nighters” in the hospital room and stayed during the long days also.

She had lived a plain, hard-working life as a farmer’s wife and mother of five children. What others might see as drudgery, she saw as blessings. Read Proverbs 31:10-31.

She had a delicacy of spirit and concern for others that we would all do well to emulate. Imagine all the joy she had for all those years preparing those delicious meals with vegetables from her own garden, laying it all out in all its abundance for her family to enjoy, and then realizing the sadness it caused her husband…that he could not eat it. And just like that, she quit doing what had been such a part of family life for so many years…the pleasure of seeing a beautiful home-cooked meal all laid out in all its glory.

It’s been over five years since the patient left the hospital, and I’ve wondered about her often.

My wonders were answered several months ago. Her obituary expressed the characteristics mentioned above and also stated something I didn’t know…that she had spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home where, the obituary declared, “she made many friends”. What an example of a pleasant attitude and good life until the very end at almost 100 years of age!!

This “ordinary elderly woman” was, in fact, extraordinary. She blessed us, and we loved her.

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Matthew 25:21

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SOUTHERN LADIES, RUSSIAN STYLE: HOW TO MAKE REAL RUSSIAN TEA

There’s all different sorts of ladies, I guess, but for me (me being Mrs. Hate), as a little girl in the 1960s, a Southern lady in a small town would conjure up this image: playing Bridge or Canasta on Saturday afternoons while eating chicken salad and tomato aspic, with pound cake and boiled custard for dessert.

And to drink?? Russian tea was always de rigueur…I could promise you on a stack of Baptist Bibles that no Russian had ever, ever lived in my small town, but Russian tea was considered quite lady-like on Saturday afternoons.

For card playing Saturdays, you didn’t dress up quite like going to church on Sundays, but you dressed a little more fancily than you would if you were just around the house by yourself. And I daresay that the cards themselves were a little more fancy than the cards one played with for everyday play.

And I should know all this, because my grandmother taught me how to play Canasta when I was just a wee awkward little girl six years old, and I watched her make all the preparations for her Saturday afternoon Canasta games, games that were rotated through the little circle of friends’ homes…of course!! One of those unspoken rules that just simmer and birth over the years, rules yielding the blessed safety and sanctity of routine, with “taking turns hosting” being the first rule.

Canasta and Bridge days were certainly a carefully proscribed affair, with allowances made for each individual’s cooking specialty and allowances made for the idiosyncrasies of the players. Examples as follows:  “you know Martha always has to sit in that chair” or “you know Julia has to talk ten minutes about her grandchildren before we can even get started” or “you know if Lois doesn’t get a wild card in any of her hands she’ll pout ‘til next time”…all harmless little comments for this little set of friends, no viciousness or spite regarding looks or husbands or monetary status. I should know, because these women were of a different time and character. Were they saints? Not necessarily, but they just “knew” that you just “knew how to act”. So hard to explain this…a combination of innocence, character, and too much hard work keeping house and going to church and circle meetings to have time to be vicious and catty.

Granny was a very neat, very thorough scratch cook with a delicate touch; no fear, there will be plenty of Granny stories to come. For this story, however, the focus is her Russian tea, which was even served in the sweltering hot days of July and August. Imagine 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon in July with the temperature pushing 100 degrees and saying “why yes, Mildred (Granny’s fantastic, plain-jane name) I’d LOVE some Russian tea”.

There was a sad time in the 1970s and 1980s when Russian tea was some concoction with a base of instant Tang powdered orange drink, or was it Tang powdered instant orange drink, or Tang instant orange powdered drink, or…so interchangeable with this Tang stuff. But hey, Tang had its place…astronauts and all that. Fun Fact:  the creator of Tang, William A. Mitchell, also invented Pop Rocks, Cool Whip, a form of instant-set Jell-O, and other convenience foods (thanks to Wikipedia reference). And Cool Whip? Oh my Lord in Heaven…oh Lord have mercy…NO COOL WHIP!! ONLY LIGHTLY WHIPPED AND SUGARED HEAVY CREAM!! (but you know, there’s something about cherry Jell-O and Cool Whip…)

However, Granny’s Russian tea was as follows:

  •  1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 16 cups cold water
  • 12 tea bags
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar

Bring to a boil cloves, cinnamon, and water.

Remove from heat and add tea bags.

Let sit for 5 minutes; remove bags and cloves and cinnamon.

Add orange juice, lemon juice, (and surely you know the juices need to come from fresh oranges and lemons…no frozen or bottled stuff) and sugar and stir well.

Strain for extra fineness and serve hot.

 

I haven’t had Russian tea in years, and I mean YEARS, but digging for that recipe and remembering Granny and her organized, efficient, phlegmatic little small-town Southern self makes me want to mix up a batch right now…and it’s going to be 82 degrees today. Not bad Russian tea weather, but I long for July and August when it’s a smothering and humid 100 degrees and I will dress up in a neat shirtwaist dress with hose and small pumps and a string of pearls and a circle pin and drink scalding-hot Russian tea. Divine.

The day came when my grandmother was 93 and lonely (but hung on to life until 6 weeks short of 100), and my mother said to her “why don’t you call up some friends and play cards?” to which my grandmother oh so truthfully replied “they’re all dead” as she stared out the crank-out windows on her little back porch. Time passed, the living room that had hosted so many Saturday afternoon Canasta games was silent, and the card-players were just ghosts lingering only in our small-town memories, except for Granny…who had both the blessing and the curse of living beyond her span.



Mary Cassatt

“Five O’Clock Tea”

 

HATE POINT:  obviously, Tang-based Russian tea, complete with instant tea powder

 

LOVE POINT:  Granny’s patience with me and enjoyment in teaching a lonely little six-year old girl how to play a grownups’ card game

 


THE SWEET BREAD THAT’S SO GOOD THAT I KEPT EATING IT UNTIL I GOT FOUNDERED

You all are getting some lagniappe here, lagniappe meaning (in case there are some readers out there who haven’t heard that word) a bonus…the bonus being a good recipe, a word you might not hear very often, and a little family reminiscing. 🙂

Now, I would hazard that many people know about lagniappe, but how many are familiar with the word “foundered”?

My father used this word a LOT and we, the daughters, still use the word today when the situation calls for it. So, what does it mean?

The way Daddy used the word “foundered” is this way:

“I ate so much of that fried fish and those hushpuppies that I got foundered.” Or, “if you keep eating that watermelon you’re going to get foundered on it.”

The meaning of the word “foundered” can probably be gleaned by the context in the above sentences. Simply put, “foundered” means you ate so much (often of a rich food) that you just feel blah, uncomfortable, kind of queasy, blechhh. You usually don’t end up throwing up or anything, you just feel like “I sure wish I hadn’t made such a pig of myself and kept on eating like a hog at the trough”. Probably the best cure for foundering is a ginger ale, maybe a Coke. After being foundered, next time you ate something later on in the day, it would probably be just some saltines, or soda crackers, as Daddy usually called them.

Well, being the driven and inquisitive person that I am, I thought “hmmmm…this word is so familiar to me, but I wonder if it’s in the dictionary?” And, wonder of wonders, it is.

From Merriam-Webster:

founder: to disable (an animal) especially by excessive feeding

Since Daddy was a farmer and farmed crops and had cows and pigs (cattle and hogs? I vacillate between the two), this might be the source for him of using this word in referring to human overeating.

Or maybe it was a word that was common anyway in this rural area back in the 1920s and 1930s when he was growing up. Whatever, if we’re sitting around stuffing toasted pecans or boiled peanuts in our mouths like somebody’s going to take them away from us, one of the sisters will usually look at the other and say “you better quit eating so much, you’re gone get foundered, and it’ll be your own fault.” No sympathy here!!

Well, why don’t we just mosey on to the sweet bread recipe referenced in the post title? And, because I’ve spent so much time explaining “foundered”, let’s just present the recipe without any more yip-yap, as I say. Just a warning, though…if you eat too much of it and get foundered, it’s your own fault. Man! I got some Mrs. Hate-ness going on there! 🙂

SWEET OLIVE OIL QUICK BREAD

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured sultana raisins
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • unsalted butter for loaf pan
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts

 

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the sugar. Add the eggs, milk, and olive oil, and beat well.

Toss the raisins in a little flour to coat them lightly. Add the raisins and lemon zest to the flour and egg mixture and stir to distribute evenly.

Butter and flour a loaf pan. Transfer the batter into the pan and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the top with pine nuts. Bake for 55 mintues, or until a thin skewer inserted in the center comes out dry. Let cool for a few minutes. Unmold and cool on a rack.

(www.epicurious.com from Desserts and Sweet Snacks: Rustic, Italian Style by Viana La Place)

 

I mix this bread by hand using a whisk (don’t over beat, no need to use mixer, just mix lightly) and use Bertolli extra light tasting olive oil, not extra-virgin olive oil. I’ve also substituted currants or dried cherries for the raisins/skipped the pine nuts or used almonds, and it’s really good if you sprinkle the top of loaf generously with powdered sugar when it comes out of the oven.

 

Foundered…you’ve been warned.

 


THE OLD DAYS, OR “THERE ARE NO ACCIDENTS”

some of the greatest blessings in life

are the unexpected blessings… 

they are a gift in the midst of everyday life

and, as we look at our life, especially when we are

gifted

with the advancing of years and aging

…aging just gives us more opportunities for experiences…

we can see blessed experiences have piled up and are there

if we but recognize them and cherish them as they unfold

***

a quote we often hear is

“there are no accidents”

and here is a story about a no-accident that is a true blessing

***

the patient…an older black man

the therapy worker…a younger white woman

the patient seemed to know who the therapist was…

but the therapist had never heard of the patient

***

the patient started to question the therapist and said…

I know who you are…

your doctor granddaddy set my arm way back in the 1930s

when I was a little boy

and fell off climbing over that fence

and broke my arm

***

he was a fine man, a good man

and my sisters and I remember your great-aunts

and their cats and dogs and chickens

and their horse and buggy

and their pistol

and their palm-reading

and how we all lived out there on your farm…

all of us, my granddaddy and my uncle too

and we walked that dirt road

and fished in that pond

and played in those woods

and gathered eggs underneath your aunts’ house

***

the patient said…

I can sit in this room in the hospital

and look out the window at the woods

and remember the old days

of running through those woods

playing and running and being so happy and alive

***

as the therapist did not have the privilege of knowing

her grandfather and great-aunts

…they died before she was born…

she was

so thankful

for the opportunity to hear these stories

and meet the man who was her connection to her past

and the man was thankful to meet the woman

who had the family “blood” in her

and had her grandfather’s voice

and her grandfather’s walk

***

with tears in his eyes, the patient told me…

it’s just so good to talk to somebody about the old days

he remembers his childhood as a blessed happy time

what wonderful memories he has

and how wonderful that he came into my life

completely unexpectedly

***“there are no accidents”***

thank you, Mr. Johnny


from Doc-eeee

*****

I live outside the city limits of a small town of less than 6,000. One would think that somewhere along the way the patient, Mr. Johnny, and I would have met up, more than likely in the grocery store…which is usually the best place in town for having a friendly chat. Truth is, I had never laid eyes on him, so his searching looks at me and questions to me of “do you know who I am? I bet you don’t know me” discomfited me slightly, yet he seemed harmless enough.

Once the floodgates opened and Mr. Johnny started pouring out memories, however, I saw the past come alive. I had heard endless stories of my wild, loving grandfather and eccentric great-aunts from my mother, but there was something about hearing a stranger’s remembrances of living on the farm and the love he had for my grandfather that gave me a whole different perspective on how a non-family member viewed my family and this safe time in his life.

Mr. Johnny might take umbrage at being termed “a non-family member”, and you know what? He would be right. I felt as close to him and as comfortable talking with him as I would my blood kin.

And you know what else? Saying Mr. Johnny “had tears in his eyes” is not quite right either.

Mr. Johnny actually was speechless with dry sobs and emotions almost every time we talked. Such is the aching,  stirring beauty of shared memories of “the old days”.


SHE SMOKED UNTIL 93, LIVED UNTIL RIGHT AT 100…IS HER POUND CAKE THE SECRET TO LONG LIFE?

Granny was probably one of the very few people who could smoke and not get lung cancer or emphysema or anything mere weakling mortals would. You see, Granny was tough.

Her fingernails may have been just slightly yellow, and her Buick and little back porch may have always smelled of stale Winstons, but I’m guessing Granny’s sheer toughness repelled anything bad catching hold of her (“bad” being cancer or emphysema or such as that).

Or, was it her pound cake that formed a shield against ill health??

All I know is, she could have easily cooked a thousand pound cakes in her long life. I should know…there was usually one on the kitchen counter on Sundays for strawberry shortcake.

And what’s interesting about this to me is, Granny cooked only ONE pound cake recipe her entire life. It was a good pound cake, and it tasted the same year in and year out…a classic, if you will…but I’ve tried all sorts of pound cake recipes and enjoyed every minute of it. Furthermore, I’ve analyzed this recipe-trying trait in myself and have decided it’s very obvious that it comes down through my mother and my grandfather (Granny’s husband), in that the desire to try new things and be stimulated and curious and restless and have challenges both large and small comes from the mother and the grandfather, not from Granny.

Granny was even of temperament to the point of being functional, phlegmatic as described in the Russian tea story, and pretty much devoid of curiosity…therefore, one pound cake recipe. It would be a disservice to refer to her as “shallow”, but she certainly didn’t display her emotions. And all of that was all right, because she was Granny.

You see, Granny was about 5’3” tall, probably weighed 100 pounds, smoked Winstons until she was 93 (and only quit then when the cute young doctor told her she needed to), had a worm bed a.k.a. compost bed that was beyond superb, had Guillain-Barre syndrome in the 1950s and was in an iron lung machine, got hit in the head when she was 80 for her pocketbook in a Greyhound bus station bathroom on the way back from visiting older sister in New Orleans (I cried when I went to Granny’s house across the road to check on her as soon as she got back, but Granny didn’t cry), picked pecans up in the sleet in November at age 93 (bending straight over from the waist to pick them up), shot at cows with a BB gun when she said they were putting their hooves in the cow trough and messing up the water, chopped snakes’ heads off with a hoe, drove home from her mountain house, a 6-hour trip, at age 89…89!!!…all by herself with double vision and said “oh, I just shut one eye and then I would see only one car coming”, and lived to be almost 100.

Why be creative and curious when you can do all that??

WIthout further ado, here is Granny’s pound cake recipe. Frequently served with strawberries crushed up with a little sugar and whipped cream for…ta-da…strawberry shortcake. It should last close to a week before a little staleness might start creeping in, but—as we all know from reading so very many cookbooks—pound cakes tend to improve after the first day or two and get moister and moister and moister.

 

GRANNY’S POUND CAKE

1  2/3 cups sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter

2  1/3 cups sifted cake flour

5 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

***

Mix the standard way

Bake at 325 for 1 hour and 10 minutes in a greased and floured Bundt or tube pan

HATE POINT:  I’m a little afraid of being bushwacked by a pound cake hit squad being sent after me, but…cream cheese pound cake and sour cream pound cake
LOVE POINT:  loving that hopefully one gets such an interesting mix of character traits and personal quirks from all parts of the family gene pool that each individual will make his or her own unique way in this world, enjoy life to the hilt, and be thankful for their family heritage


DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT DEPRESSION

this patient was strong in her faith

comfortable in her skin

and loved to read…

a perfect combination

***

she grew up rural

with a mama, a daddy

and

five girl children and four boy children

this upbringing made her the person she is today

***

picking cotton and shaking peanuts

gathering eggs and milking the cow

toting water and sweeping the dirt yard

had a way of strengthening a person

in both body and soul

***

nowadays we talk about having

“good self-esteem”

or how to get it if we don’t

but back when this patient was young

you didn’t have to fret over your self-esteem…

you were too busy getting through the day

helping your mama and daddy

and

self-esteem grabbed a hold of you naturally

***

when it would be coming up on Christmas

this patient and her siblings would walk home from school

couldn’t hardly wait to get a look at what

their mama

had cooked and put in the pie safe…

chocolate cakes, caramel cakes, coconut cakes

it was so pretty

***

now what did this little girl wear to school?

well, according to her

her mama bought a 25 pound bag of flour every two weeks

lots of biscuit-making and flapjack-making going on

and when the flour sacks were especially pretty

with flowers blooming on them

her mama would cut them up and make dresses and underwear out of them

I’d be so happy when I got a new dress

***

her daddy took care of the shoes for the little girl

when she had walked so much a hole wore through the bottom of the shoe

Daddy had a little machine and would cut a little piece of leather

and use the machine to patch it onto the shoe…

we couldn’t afford new shoes

***

if you had all this and more in your background in your growing-up years

don’t you think you’d be strong in your faith and comfortable in your skin?

as the patient said…

I thank God I know where I came from

***

and what about the word

DEPRESSION

in the title of this story?

***

the patient said…

you can be depressed if you want to

but not me…I grew up hard

I have faith in the Lord and trust HIM

*****

My opinion on this?

I think that growing up poor with loving parents on a farm taught her how to have faith and joy and peace and working hard can generally improve even the worst depression.

I think that there are valid reasons for taking prescription anti-depressants.

I think that a combination of anti-depressants and physical activity can work wonders on a depressive state.

I think that a loving family and friends are integral to bolstering the depressive personality.

I think that faith, if you’re a believer, is paramount.

I know that my mama said whenever she felt down, she’d go out in the yard and pull weeds or get a mop and mop the kitchen.

Lord, help those who are depressed, and help them find peace through some combination of the above.


WHERE’S THE HATE?

If you were to be around Mrs. Hate in person, you might think “where’s the hate? she seems so harmless with those big blue eyes, that soft Southern voice, and that gentle spirit.” Well, Mrs. Hate IS harmless, until something irritates her. Then, in the absolute bosom of her family and closest friends, she calls a spade a spade, gets down to the lick-log, rants and raves, whatever you want to call it. Now, a reader might question Mrs. Hate’s reticence in only sharing these opinions and feelings with her family and close friends by saying “is there a little bit of hypocrisy going on here? she acts one way with one group and another with another group.” Well, let’s look at the situation. Mrs. Hate had the good fortune of being raised up in an extraordinarily gentle, loving home. Her father never, ever raised his voice and was held in the highest regard in their small Southern town. Her mother also enjoyed that same regard, but her temperament was more creative and free. Mrs. Hate has a strong feeling that the resulting genetic code of these differing parental  personalities is what gives her her “Mrs. Hate-ness.” That gentle, loving upbringing was also a Christian one. Why on earth would you want to say things which could hurt others’ feelings or encourage dissent over things that usually don’t really matter? That wouldn’t be very “Jesus.” Then there’s the fact that Mrs. Hate grew up such a little introvert. She lays that to a childhood of clumsiness, rail-thin tallness, bookworm-yness (invented word here), and those substantially thick glasses she began wearing at age five. That childhood gave her plenty of opportunity to observe others who seemed to be so confident, so coordinated; a child’s awkwardness laid the groundwork for an adult who is comfortable with her own self, yet still feels a little uncomfortable in large groups.

At this point, Mrs. Hate felt it appropriate to look up the definition of hypocrisy; we need to be on firm ground here.

From Merriam-Webster:

“hypocrite: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings”

Eureka! Mrs. Hate doesn’t “act in contradiction to her stated beliefs or feelings”; she acts with comportment and is true to her own self, while not voicing extremely strong/controversial opinions in public. That brings up the point that this blog is public. The reader is surely aware that Mrs. Hate is a pseudonym, which causes Mrs. Hate some circular self-examination and self-talk, to wit, “I’m voicing some strong opinions in a public blog? I’m fixing to (Southern vernacular) confuse my OWN self.” Or, as Oscar Wilde said, “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” Thus, anonymity. Now, getting down to that aforementioned lick-log of what to expect from these postings. Is Mrs. Hate going to post randomly and posts just pop up without any organization? Let’s hope not, as she would feel that would be a disservice to the reader (the kindhearted Mrs. Hate thinks of others). So, let’s say it might go something like this:

  • Three posts weekly, spaced appropriately (maybe Sunday, Wednesday, Friday)
  • One post intertwining rural Southern family memories and personalities (going back 150 years) with from-scratch family recipes
  • One post blowing off steam about all sorts of relatively innocuous happenings, entities, trends, speech patterns, character traits, things of that nature (the impetus for the non de plume “Mrs. Hate”)
  • One post relating the glories, beauty, and wonderment of working in healthcare

Mrs. Hate sincerely hopes that the reader will gain something of value from these postings.