I miss Mom and Dad like crazy. And the twins too. I just haven’t felt as safe since they died. Being back here has helped but it hasn’t taken away all of that … that feeling that there is a vital piece of the puzzle missing. But being that wasn’t a constructive thought and I was trying to be constructive I turned away from it and wandered down more gentle memories.
Mom was organized. Some people could have been rude about the extent and depth of her need for organization but not in my hearing they didn’t. Mom was a gentle soul but anyone that knew her knew that everything had a place and everything better be in its place when not in immediate use. How organized was she? Let’s just say I knew how to alphabetize before all the other kids my age because of our household library.
Open any door, cabinet, or drawer in any house we lived in and you would find nails, hooks, and containers all more neatly labeled than the local hardware store with matching, color-coded Sharpie permanent markers. Mom should have owned stock in the Sharpe company. When they came out with those special Sharpie pens for writing on checks that didn’t bleed through to the paper beneath it you would have thought she’d died and gone to Heaven. She had a shoe box full of Sharpies but she always has her “good” set with eleventy dozen colors that no one touched for fear of loss of limb(s).
Same with her good scissors. My mother actually labeled each pair of scissors so everyone knew which was which and where they lived when they weren’t working. General kitchen shears, meat and bone shears, pinking shears, the scissors she used exclusively for silk and satin (Ginghers) and those for general sewing (Fiskars), paper scissors, tool box scissors, garden and pruning shears, Exacto blades, box cutters, etc., etc., etc.
And boy did Mom love shoe boxes; not for shoes naturally, but for organizing. She also loved labels … all sorts of labels and all sorts of labeling devices. She could pack a whole house in a single day and then unpack it and put it back to rights the next just by packing all of her well labeled boxes, files, and crates into more boxes for the movers to haul from one place to the next. To Mom organizing could have been a competitive sport … and she would have won every play off and gone to nationals every year. Her organization is what made it so easy to take over when she got sick. It has also made it so much easier to find things we need when we are looking for them to set this house up as our permanent residence. Doesn’t matter whether it was strung from the basement to the attic all you have to do is look at the packing list taped to the outside of the box and you know exactly what is inside and where it ultimately belonged.
The one black hole that was the exception to her mania is two of the attic rooms. Our attic is divided into three distinct sections that correspond to three major build outs over the many years this house has sat on this foundation. Even for her those two other rooms are a bit much. I’ve only had a couple of peeks inside the first one since I was little and I remember it looks like Alice’s Wonderland puked up everything and then some out of the mirror. I have no idea at all what might be found blocked up in the oldest section all the way over to the end of the house. The window on that end of the attic has been blocked in since at least my great great grandparents were alive and nothing has seen the light of day in there for who knows how long.
This house started out as a one room cabin with a loft. Then a kitchen and three downstairs bedrooms were added at the same time the original hole in the ground where they put the milk to keep it cool was enlarged into an actual cellar … what we now call the basement. The basement is deep and has granite block walls. The floor was nothing but dirt before Dad got a hold of it to deal with a corner that was always damp. I’m not sure who it was that did it but some time before the Civil War there was another enlargement made that added the second story.
The tunnel off the basement was dug during the Civil War and has all sorts of family rumors attached to its original purpose … from a stop on the Underground Railroad, to running guns and shine to the Confederates, to a room where they kept a crazy cousin that lost her husband and sons during one of the battles of Clarksville. Since most of my relatives of that time period were either illiterate or too busy to keep a journal one rumor is just about as believable as the next … or unbelievable depending on who was telling the tale.
The last major expansion was done by my great grandparents during a time of tobacco prosperity when they squared off all of the odd angles and corners and re-sided the house and got rid of the wood shakes for a slate roof. This added the parlor, the formal dining room, and extended the porch so it wrapped around the entire house.
My grandparents decided they preferred living at the front of the farm – incidentally giving my grandmother some peace from her father in law who could be a rough man on most days with a not too high opinion of women – that was closer to the highway and flatter so built their own place a few years after they got married, though theirs was of bricks and mortar rather than wooden tongue and groove and hand whittled nailing pegs. That’s the house that Uncle Roe inherited. They did modernize the plumbing for my great grandmother who refused to live anywhere besides what became known as the Old House after she became a widow and ran wiring that was pretty good for the times as well.
My parents upgraded the plumbing and wiring after Mom inherited the place – something next to useless now – and had plans to add a turret on the outside corner of the house where the master bedroom is but I guess that isn’t happening now. It was to give the master bedroom a sitting area and enlarge the smallest bedroom directly above it. But it would have required cleaning out the attic and Mom always pushed it off as unnecessary and something that could wait until they lived there full time.
Since I obviously wasn’t cleaning out the attic any time soon I moved on to the next thing Mom did and that was to make a weekly menu … sometimes a monthly one. She said knowing what was planned kept wasted time down to a minimum. I like that idea. I like even more that we had enough food to warrant a menu. And a menu is a way to use that food most efficiently so that it will last as long as possible and go the furthest. The fact is it is also something constructive I could do while stuck in my ever loving bed so I got up just long enough to get my papers and pencil from the dresser drawer where I store such things.
The first trick is to stretch the cultivated foods with my wild forage so that both last as long as possible. The second trick is to make it happen in a way that no one notices what I am doing, or if they do eat it anyway.
B: Acorn Muffins, hog jowl, grits
L: watercress butter for fish, water cress cooked the Chinese way, hushpuppies
S: apple-spearmint salad, Judas’ Ear mushroom soup
Dessert = popcorn
B: cornmeal nut muffins with persimmons, hard boiled eggs
L: mushroom butter on baked chicken, hickory nut stuffed eggs, canned kudzu
S: chickweed & cress salad, meat pies
Dessert = persimmon quick bread
B: acorn griddle cakes and syrup
L: spearmint sauce on baked possum, burdock roots with pineapple chunks
S: Sunchoke salad, ham pie
Dessert = mint sauce over plain cake (to make up for serving possum at noonday meal)
B: Oatmeal with fried apples
L: Venison burgers, fried mushrooms, hominy
S: Ground nut stew, oatmeal scones, and leftover venison burgers if there are any
Dessert = black walnut pie
B: cornmeal biscuits, fried eggs, ham & red eye gravy
L: raccoon baked with apples (which serves them right as they ate a lot of them all season long as well)
S: bean burgers, gravy, cornmeal ragged robin rolls
Dessert = persimmon custard
B: sunchoke biscuits, squirrel sausage, scrambled eggs, fried mush
L: fried rabbit, carrots, and some other cooked greens
S: Eggless corn bread, stewed potatoes, white beans (with ham hock for flavoring)
Dessert = marmalade pudding (don’t have to use any of the leventy dozen jars down in the basement but might as well since they’re there)
B: leftover hash (use sunchokes to piece out the potatoes and make them go further)
L: Ham soufflé with parsley sauce, mixed veggies and/or cooked greens
S: split pea pancakes, scalloped ham and hominy (use up any ham that didn’t go into the soufflé)
Dessert = poor man’s cake
I thought that first menu looked pretty good. It could stand some fine tuning here and there of course but I would do that as soon as I asked Jude if he would actually eat it … I wasn’t too sure about the ‘coon and ‘possum. Paulie and I would without a problem though I’ll admit yet again that ‘possum isn’t my favorite but I wasn’t sure how tough a sell it was going to be to everyone else.
Thinking about what the other men had said about what was available locally and hadn’t been hunted over I tried to think of ways to use grouse, woodcock, beaver, muskrat, nutria, and goose (sometimes they hung around in December).
Then I heard a squeak on the floor board in the living room. Uh huh. None of them was going to sneak up on me and check to make sure that I was still sitting in bed like a naughty preschooler; I knew every noise this house made. I carefully slid out of bed prepared to scare the bejeebers out of them.
I tippy toed carefully to the door and then, when I thought I had them, I jumped out of the bedroom door and went, “ROARRRRRR!!!!!”
Oh crud … it wasn’t Jude.