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Posts Tagged ‘family’

  1. Chocolate Milk Memories and Mama Lay

    August 28, 2011 by The Yum Yum

    Childhood brings with it all kinds of strange events, especially young childhood, before the age of five or so. We’re so quickly influenced by the world around us that it’s as though a kindergartner has already lived an entire lifetime before starting school.

    I could delve into the mystical dimension of this and speak of how aeons before us, the amount of learning an organism would do never even amounted to the amount of knowledge one human child has, and that the process of evolution somehow led us up to where we are now, and that in the future, our children will have progressed far beyond where we are by the end of our lives.

    However, I won’t go there.

    What I wanted to discuss is actually chocolate milk, which is probably not something you would have gathered from the first few lines.I can remember once in high school someone online in a chatroom ridiculed me for a perspective I held because I was a teenager. You know the stereotype, that adults seem to think teenagers think they know everything, and I, too, fell victim to such attacks. However, unlike most teenagers, I never felt like I knew everything.It’s true, people attacked me in that way, too. Instead, I faced a perpetually horrifying reality of how little I knew and that I could never possibly learn everything, and that life would basically force me to pick a few things and learn those thoroughly and make them my “thing,” while leaving other things to other people.

    I also want to point out exactly how strange it is that any adult would make an accusation that someone else is acting like they know everything. The first lesson anyone should get in that they’ll never know anything, and yes, you do have wise people, and yes, many older people can give experiential advice, but many older people are just as stupid as the teenagers they hate, so maybe that’s the real issue- too many people are stupid.

    Back to chocolate milk.

    Anyway, so the person insulted me, and then I admitted that I did like chocolate milk, and here, today, I’m going to admit that in my early-late 20s, I still love chocolate milk. I mean, what, I’m supposed to sit around and ca-caw about how good the bourbon or whiskey tastes?

    No thank ya, ma’am. No thank ya.

    Gigi actually did the chocolate milk thing for me and my brother when we were children the opposite of how most people might have done it- she actually bought chocolate syrup and mixed it with milk. Naturally, as my brother and I grew older, we learned this was not a complicated and process, and a few times, the normally slightly pinkish-brownish milk would turn the color of mud, followed by our racing around the house and jumping around and somehow managing to burn off any chocolate we had just consumed.

    We also drank Instant Breakfast as children. Now, before you turn Gigi in for child abuse, I want to make the point that we didn’t necessarily drink it in place of a meal. This had nothing to do with her aversion to cooking; she never said, “Okay, Instant Breakfast for dinner, kids.”

    And if you also think about it, Instant Breakfast is loaded with vitamins and minerals, not unlike taking a multi-vitamin, so if you have kids of your own and they’re picky eaters, tempt them with the chocolate shake of Instant Breakfast, and there you go.

    Another kind of chocolate milk, and actually what I wanted to write about in this blog that’s become way longer than I had intended, is the store-bought chocolate milk at Mama Lay’s house. Mama Lay was my maternal grandmother, and for me, for whatever reason, it’s easier to compare my own temperament to my four grandparents than to my parents; I can see various things that either skipped a generation or something that’s come straight down through us all.

    Mama Lay was very quiet and reserved and dignified; in a blog earlier this year, I mentioned that she taught me one of the greatest lessons in life without actually telling it to me. She came from a well-to-do family, and then she met my grandfather, who came from a working-class family. Her family warned her that to marry my grandfather would mean she would have nothing in the way of material possessions in this life.

    But she loved my grandfather, and likely in one of those iron-will-in-silence moments, she pushed forth and married him for love instead of for money. Then at my grandfather’s funeral, her siblings remarked they had made such a comment of her, and then they went on to say her life had been the happiest of any of theirs.

    So that being a lesson learned, money has never been something that attracts me to someone. Ever.

    The chocolate milk from the store tasted different. Very different. It wasn’t bad; in fact, the chocolate milk at Mama Lay’s house was really, really, good! Just different. I can still remember the taste, the wonder, of how this chocolate milk could be different, of why it was different, and I never really understood.

    Now that I’m older, I still drink store-bought chocolate milk from time to time, and it admittedly makes great hot cocoa when warmed up. I think the first time I had a fudge-sicle, I was reminded of that chocolate milk flavor, too.

    A good addition to the chocolate milk around this time of year, the High Summer, I call it, would be pecan and nut flavorings, I think. This probably goes double for the coming Autumn months.

    So what are you waiting for? Get the show on the road and get some chocolate milk!




  2. Poppy and the Lazy Susan Table: Part 3

    January 23, 2011 by The Yum Yum

    Part 1 is here.

    The story about Poppy’s Cookie Jar is here.

    So now the story continues, and you’re going to hear all about how my family inherited the Lazy Susan Table.
    The table was built by my grandmother’s grandfather, James R. Dean. Poppy retrieved the table out of the barn in 1945 and re-worked it.
    According to the information my aunt sent me, the original table was built like this: the Lazy Susan part was 40 inches across, while the main table was 66 inches. This means everyone’s food and plates would fit within a 22 inch zone- and trust me, it was more than enough room. There was a post that went down through the middle of the table to the floor that allowed the Lazy Susan part to turn.
    Also, the table top was originally wooden but later replaced with Formica.
    So now we arrive at the funny parts of the story.
    Apparently, my Aunt Corky would clean off the able and spin the younger kids around on the Lazy Susan part.
    And also, apparently, the children liked to crawl under the table to stop the post in the middle from turning the Lazy Susan around.
    I can’t imagine someone riding on the Lazy Susan table. My brother and I would never have dared conceived of doing that.
    Lawrence Harris once spun the Lazy Susan part as hard as he could…
    …which sent the gallon of fresh milk sitting on it flying into the wall.
    The Lazy Susan table tells these stories through everyone who has sat around it. To date, I have not encountered one person who has sat at the table who doesn’t remember it or have a story to tell that’s attached to it. The table is a true legacy, the kind of treasure that’s priceless.
    Also, it’s been in my family for a long, long time:
    1. Mama Harris’s Grandfather
    2. Mama Harris’s Father
    3. Mama Harris
    4. My Father
    5. Me

    That’s a long, long time for the table to have survived, replete with all its amazing stories.

    The table now resides at my Uncle Jerry’s house in the Eufaula area. The family still meets there from time to time and eats around the Lazy Susan table.

    Two of my uncles, my father, and my aunt posing around the table where they’ve eaten since they were children.

    Two aunts, my father, two uncles. It must be great to be able to sit around this table still!

    A family affair of people eating. I don’t know who everyone in the picture is. You can see Gigi in her bright pink, though.

    All that being said, my father and I have every intention of going into building and selling the Lazy Susan tables. It would be a great honor and a great esteem to be able to share this legacy, to give others the same symbol around which our own lives have been built.

    Wouldn’t you love to eat around a Lazy Susan table?


  3. Poppy and the Lazy Susan Table: Part 2

    January 5, 2011 by The Yum Yum

    (In case you missed it and would like to read it, Part 1 can be found by clicking here.)

    Have you ever heard the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? Sitting around the Lazy Susan Table at my grandfather’s house with my family made that particular legend come even more alive for me.

    Provided, none of us were medieval knights.

    In fact, I’m really curious to know what exactly Poppy would have done if someone had dressed in a full knight’s suit of armor and sat down at his table.

    I have an inkling of what my grandmother would have done- she would likely have acted like there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary and offered the knight-in-shining-armor some peas.

    That or she would have thrown a small fire-cracker in his suit when he wasn’t looking, but I’ll tell the story of Mama Harris’s pranks and antics another day.

    Sitting around the Lazy Susan Table felt important. Our meal time was a big deal. Eating together as not just a family, but as an extended family, many times with neighbors and friends, is something that happened as a weekly event, a commonplace reality for me. People did not split up and sit in front of the TV, people did not eat at random times or separately- people sat down together, they ate together, and they enjoyed themselves together.

    Being fortunate and blessed alike, even to this day I sit and eat with friends and relatives sometime throughout my week. The experience doesn’t feel quite as ceremonial as it did at Poppy’s house, where it happened week after week like clockwork, and oftentimes my friends and I improvise and are sporadic about when we’re dining together, and our menu changes frequently.

    Unlike Poppy, who had accumulated over 80 years worth of cooking wisdom, most of us are in our 20s.

    That means we occasionally make cooking mistakes.

    You just have to accept that when you’re still in your 20s, sometimes the cookies burn.

    Speaking of burning, allow me to recall one particularly vivid memory of Poppy: I had the chickenpox as a child. I was in 4th grade, so that means I was about 10 or 11. Because both of my parents worked, I stayed at Poppy’s. He and Mama Harris had both had the chicken pox when they were younger, so there was no danger of anyone catching it.

    I was with him in the kitchen, watching him prepare lunch. Bear in mind that the majority of the time when we arrived on Sundays, most of the food had already been prepared, and people were getting ready to eat. Rarely did we see Poppy cook most of his food, so this day was especially unique to me.

    He stood at the stove, frying cornbread. (To this day, and with my own mother as my witness, I am not a fan of baked cornbread, and that’s to put it rather mildly.)

    Then he tossed the cornbread out…

    … on his hand

    …and flipped it back into the pan on the side that hadn’t been cooking.

    I must’ve been gawking, because Poppy started laughing and said, “You thought I was gonna burn myself, didn’t you? The trick is not to stand there like a fool with it on your hand and to get it right back in the pan!”

    I’ve never actually fried cornbread myself, and I would be deathly afraid of an attempt to repeat the trick.

    The only other time I saw this trick again was once when my Aunt Katharine was frying cornbread at Poppy’s house, but she was making multiple pieces of small cornbread.

    Apparently, that was the tradition in the household for a long time- smaller, individual pieces of cornbread. The shift to the larger, singular piece of cornbread from which everyone torn a piece happened due to Poppy’s heart trouble, or so I was told by my mother many years ago.

    From RIGHT to LEFT: my grandfather (age 88, I think), my father (a few days shy of being 50), and me (age 7.)

    Well, I promised that in this blog, I would provide more information about the history of the Lazy Susan Table’s entrance into my family and the role it’s played, but I seem to have filled the whole thing up with my own memoirs and how much the table means to me. So Part 3 will tentatively be dedicated to the history of the Lazy Susan Table.

    Another photo of family in the kitchen from 1990. As you can see, my father is busy stirring something on the stove.

    One thing my father and I have talked about doing in recent years was actually constructing and selling Lazy Susan Tables. That would be an amazing thing. They really are a lot of fun, and it would keep the tradition alive by sharing it with other people. I can’t explain how great that table was to sit around.

    Also, at the time of the writing of this blog, I have just been informed by my aunt about my grandfather and his lemon juice. According to Aunt Era Jo, Poppy would take a lemon, poke holes in it with a fork, and then squeeze what he needed into his tea.

    Visitors and guests to the house would inquire about which end of the lemon the juice came from.

    Either way, I adore lemon juice in my tea to this day.

    Eating around the table was almost a religious experience for me; never mind that we went to Poppy’s on Sunday. But to say that religion and food are intertwined with one another in the general sense would be an understatement (especially from the perspective of Sociology), and this fact should be highlighted a thousand times over for the South.

    It’s not just that our food tastes so good that it makes you want to sing praises to God (or gods or the universe depending on what you believe), it’s that people in the South, especially churches, will find excuses to eat.

    There’s an old joke that goes something like this that my friend Doc told me a while back:

    It’s show and tell day at school. A little girl gets up and says, “I’m Catholic, and this is my rosary.” A little boy gets up and says, “I’m Jewish, and this my Star of David.” Another little girl gets up and says, “I’m Baptist, and this is my Casserole Dish.”

    But the Baptists are not alone in eating. There’s the old joke about the Baptists and Methodists trying to finish their sermon sooner than the other one so they can beat them to the buffet line at the restaurant.

    If you’ve ever driven in a Southern city on Sunday around noon, you understand that simple truth. Hungry religious people will mow you down and steal parking places to get in line in front of you at the restaurants.

    Other than that, there’s a simple rule you must remember in the South: “If a church can find a reason to have a communal dinner of some sort, they will.” This holds true regardless of the denomination. Many churches even have a coffee and donuts hour just after the service, especially to welcome newcomers. This is how they rope you into the “Sacred Rite of Eating in the Name of Jesus”- the one thing any Christian can get right the first time theologically.

    I say that in slight jest, but there really is something special about eating with people communally, and the point of the small tangent upon is that the same effect happened at Poppy’s house. Thereto in addition, as I mentioned in the former blog, he always initiated the meal with a prayer.

    Regardless of what you believe, the prayer of thanksgiving before a meal is important, because it is the act of giving thanks, of expressing thanks, of showing that one is grateful that one has food, that one is about to share that food, that has such meaning to it.

    Some people argue that you can’t cultivate gratitude. I disagree. You can imagine something you have or like, and then imagine yourself being without it, or in some cases, remember when you were without it. (My MacBook is one such case. I am eternally grateful for my fantastic computer!) If anything, Poppy taught me through example to express gratitude for things.

    He also taught me the joy of large meals, cooking lots of food, and spending time with people you love.

    That Lazy Susan Table, with its food rotating to each person and the patriarch of my father’s side of the family at its head, has more stories to tell than you can imagine.

    Another photo. You can see my grandmother’s head in the picture. My younger brother is sitting at the table, and you can see me looking at the camera, pushing my head back for some reason. This was taken in 1988, so I was about 3.

    More stories about Poppy and Food coming up soon. In the meantime, happy cooking, and also, is anyone interested in the idea of owning a Lazy Susan Table?


  4. Cold Feet and Being Cold: A Family Thing

    December 16, 2010 by The Yum Yum

    I’ve heard stories about my paternal grandfather always complaining about his feet being cold. Even though I personally don’t remember this, I have no reason to doubt it, and even more reason to actually repeat the same account.

    After he passed away, while his body was still in the hospital, they had him covered- except for his feet. One of my relatives (I can’t remember whom) covered his feet up for him because of the same constant complaint about his feet being cold.

    My maternal grandmother was always cold. Even if the rest of us were burning up, she would complain about being cold- I remember well being at her house one summer with one window unit air conditioner and a scorching hot house, and how even running it for a little while would render her cold.

    When I was young, I was predominantly “hot-natured” in the sense that I stayed hot most of the time. It was rare that I would get cold. I also hated wearing socks when I was a kid, and I can remember teachers at school being shocked that I refused to wear socks even on super-cold winter days.

    To be fair, I honestly didn’t need them- it didn’t take much for me to get hot, and I was almost always guaranteed to get warmed up after moving around even a little.

    Somewhere around high school, this all changed for me. I began to feel the cold much more substantially, and these days, I would definitely say that I’m “cold-natured” like my grandmother.

    And guess which parts of my body stay the coldest?

    My hands and feet!

    I’ve walked through Tyler’s house on below-freezing nights without socks in the unheated rooms and almost literally had to thaw my feet when I returned to the bedroom. It’s a weird feeling to have, and it makes me feel way older than I actually am. But hey, feeling older than I am isn’t anything new to me, either.

    Typically, I’m happiest when the temperature is in the low 80s or so. That makes me feel like I’m in a warm blanket, and I don’t freeze to death. I can handle the 70s, but once I deal with temperatures below that, I feel like a human popsicle!

    Has anyone else experienced a shift from hot- to cold-natured?