I have so much to be thankful this Thanksgiving and am at the age I have finally figured out all this fuss we make over it is just about being with family. We all hear that every year, but it sometimes takes a lot of time to really sink in. My blog this week will be short with lots of photos highlighting who and what I am grateful for. The above picture is of my dad and some uncles and aunts building a house for one of my uncles to live in at mom and dads’ peach orchard.
First of all – I am thankful for my mother and father, Roy and Gladys Parker, and my grandmother and grandfather, Chancey and Clara Taylor. Grandpa Taylor is where I got my bright red hair. You can’t tell it from this picture, which was taken on their wedding day in 1899.
I am grateful for my brother Ronald, shown here with our mother and father and the second photo is Ron dressed up at the annual Crazy Days Sale in our hometown. I am also grateful for my sister-in-law, Sammie (in the red blouse), and their boys, Stephen and Curtis, shown in the third photo at a family reunion. I remember Ron taking me for a trip to the river with him and a friend of his named Everett Long. He was so afraid I would drown in the river that he wouldn’t let me out of Everett’s truck. He made me stay in the bed of the truck and let me play with a kitten they had with them. Not sure why they had a kitten, but I assume it was Everett’s.
I am grateful for my aunts and uncles in the photos below. Every one of them had a different life and personality that helped me learn that not everybody is going to always get along. No two people have the same way of doing things, or raising their families, or even looking at the events that happen in life.
And last, but not least, this is a shot of part of the extended Parker family from many years ago. Part of me can be traced back to everyone in this picture, from cousins and aunts and uncles to Grandma and Grandpa Parker, who I never had the pleasure of meeting.
My one wish for this Thanksgiving is that every family has the chance to be together for a little while, at least, and that nobody forgets what they have to be thankful for. To some it may not seem like much, but there is always something. I have never had what folks consider to be a blessed or easy life, but I can see now that even when I didn’t have that roof over my head, or a job to pay the bills, it eventually turned around, and I had so much more than I ever realized I had.
I fear I have started preaching now. My sincerest apologies. I just wish everyone has the best Thanksgiving ever. Not just this year, but in every year to come. Happy Thanksgiving to everybody!
More snow up here where I live, and I remember growing up and walking to school with my heavy old snow boots and a coat that was a couple of sizes too big so I could grow into it, and the ever present mittens. I still hate mittens! We would carry our good shoes to school with us and change into them once we were in the classroom. I didn’t like doing that so I got to the point that I would change my shoes just before I ran out the door and leave the boots setting beside the front door. My feet were always so cold by the time I got to school they would ache, and I always got in trouble when I got home, but neither one of those occurrences ever stopped me. Part of being a kid, I guess.
The picture with this blog is a picture of my older cousin, Jimmy, when he was little on a pair of skis made for him out of old barrel staves. He was so proud of those skis. It didn’t seem to bother him that they weren’t bought brand new. To him they were new because he had never had them before. His younger brothers and sisters probably used them as they grew up, too. And they all learned how to ski without all the expense of the modern ski lifts, etc. Not that there is anything wrong with those, but some people just didn’t have the money to spend like that. And some still don’t.
I think back on things like that now, and it amazes me just how much things have changed. Some of those changes are definitely for the better, but I also feel that maybe we have lost a lot by not allowing our children to do some of the things we did as children. How many children now have homemade skis? Or sleds? I was always so happy when I accomplished something. And I still am. But every time I saw something on television, or in the local newspaper ads, I wondered how I could make it for less. And I still do. I guess being brought up in a frugal household was a big aid there.
With Christmas almost upon us again, I also remember the days when we didn’t go see Santa in the mall. Santa came to us. We would stand outside in the cold on the sidewalk listening for the sounds of the his sleigh bells. And sure enough, he would be there right on time. He didn’t have reindeer, but he was in a sleigh with a horse pulling it through the streets. Most of the time we always had some snow before Christmas, so there wasn’t a problem with that. On the one occasion that I can remember when we didn’t have snow, they rigged wheels up behind the rails on the sleigh and the horse pulled him through the streets that way. It was the best time. He would do the HO-HO-HO thing and throw candy out to the children. There weren’t a lot of children on my street, but there were plenty of kids in other areas. I thought Santa visited everybody! I was talking about it one time a couple of months ago and found out Santa didn’t visit everybody. He didn’t even visit everybody in Idaho! I guess I was very special. I got to see Santa in his sleigh before I got too old to learn Santa isn’t real.
But, I think I am going to continue believing in Santa. You have to have something now and then that’s fun to believe in, and Santa making a visit to my little town in Idaho was very special to me.
Winter is coming again and as I look out the windows here in Idaho and see the first little dusting of snow, I think of the differences where I was raised up here and my husband’s family being raised in Alabama. Many things will be the same, but with kids having more outdoor time during the year in the south, I think they managed to get into a little more mischief once in a while. I know some of you will disagree with me on that point, and that is fine.
My reason for coming to that conclusion is in a story his mother told me one time, years ago. The photo below is my mother-in-law, Katie – or Big Mama as she was more affectionately referred to. The photo was taken at our home in Columbus, Georgia a few years before she passed away. The one beneath it is a picture of her mother and father.
After Big Mama got to the point the doctors wanted her to be under twenty-four supervision, I would go down and sit with her while my husband’s youngest sister was at work. There was a nurse there in the morning, and then I would take over around noon, and then his sister would be there at night.
Big Mama and I would talk about the latest cross-stitch project I was working on or the flowers in my gardens at home, or I would listen to her recount stories about her raising my husband and his brother and sisters. Now Big Mama loved working in the flower beds, but had gotten to the point she was unable to get up or down and was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, so she did not get out and enjoy them like she had.
Every year at Thanksgiving when the family got together they would draw names to see who would get Christmas presents for whom. It was a lot easier than everybody trying to buy something for everyone else. One year they decided not to draw names and money was a little tight so my husband’s sister and I decided to finish off some quilt tops we had found stashed away in one of Big Mama’s hall closets. We thought it would be more personal and something special since Big Mama had originally pieced them. This way it would be something from all of us to the other members of the family.
So for a couple of months I would go down to stay with Big Mama and I would stretch these quilts in the dining room at her house and she would talk to me and help me by cutting the the lengths of yarn to tie the quilts with. Arthritis had gotten to her fingers and it was hard for her to hang on to things real tight; this kept her busy and allowed her to help with the quilts. One day she told me a story about her and one of her brothers when she was just a little girl.
It seems her mother had her quilting frame set up so when it was time for dinner she just hoisted the quilt, frame and all, up to the ceiling. (I wish my mother had done that! We just climbed under the quilt while it took up the whole living room!) One day Big Mama and her brother were playing choo-choo train. They had found something – probably her mother’s broom – and had set it on fire to mimic the smoke from a trains smoke stack and went running through the house holding this flaming thing above their heads. Everything was fine until they reached the quilt! Whatever they were using for the trains smoke stack was tall enough that as they ran under the quilt, they set it on fire while it was hooked to the ceiling!
If I had set anything on fire, whether I was playing trains with my brother, or not, my hiney would have been set on fire with a kindling stick! My mother was not a mean woman at all, but she believed in children behaving themselves. Setting anything on fire, except the wood in the heating stove, was a definite taboo. You did not play with fire!! The end. I imagine her mother and father were none too happy with her and her brother, either. She didn’t mention if their behinds had a meeting with a kindling stick or not, but that may have been one instance where the Alzheimer’s conveniently kicked in. Or she just didn’t feel it was an important end to the tale. Either way, I thought it was a cute little tale of two kids letting their imaginations getting the better of them.
I used to wonder as a kid how people ever found enough to do before there were printed books readily available or television. I did not have television until I was probably about 12 or 13, but even then I knew that women in ‘the olden days’ didn’t go to school during the winter as I did. So what did they do during the day? And what did the children do when school was out for the summer, or on the weekends? Even I got bored jumping on my pogo stick or playing jump rope. And in winter I couldn’t do any of those activities anyway!
Nature's Free Bounty
As is almost always the case, I have grown up and I am doing a lot of the same activities people in ‘the olden days’ used to do, and – guess what – I have discovered what all those women and children did while the guys were out working in the hay field or tending the critters! My husband’s family didn’t do a lot of the same things my family did when he was growing up, probably due to the fact they moved around a lot. His father was in the Army so they didn’t stay in any one place too long, so he has just discovered the joys of doing some of the things my relatives use to do all the time. My mother and I didn’t do a lot of this because she was blind and so was unable to drive, but once in a while I had the privilege of picking berries with cousins. I even had some cousins who had their own Hazelnut trees! I loved going up there and getting the free nuts. It was so awesome!
Perfect Huckleberry Country
Huckleberries Not Quite Ready for the Picking
Huckleberries Ready for the Picking
Busy Picking the Huckleberries
Since moving to Idaho my husband has learned that Apple trees grow along the side of the road along with Crabapples, and one of his favorites – Huckleberries. He had never heard of Huckleberries before, only the Blueberries from the grocery store. Even though they are from the same family he now knows there is a very distinct difference between the two. He has also learned the easiest way to tell if it’s time to pick the Huckleberries. Once you get to your favorite spot all you have to do is step out of your vehicle and you will smell them! He has also been bitten by the Blackberry bug. There are several thousand Blackberry bushes between where we live and my cousins, and he has learned where almost every one of those bushes are located. He will be scoping out the bushes while I am driving. He doesn’t want to miss one single berry. Another berry he had never heard of is Elderberries. Not as sweet or flavorful as the Huckleberry or Blackberry, he will still scope out every tree he can find on our meanderings around the countryside.
Blackberries Ripe for the Picking
Elderberries in the Sun
Wild Red Plums Along the Potlatch River
Other fruits we have both discovered are the Wild Plums. I didn’t know we had them here in Idaho, but last year we found a couple of trees. This year we discovered that there are not only yellow plums, but red and black plums also. So along a short stretch of old railroad tracks running alongside the Potlatch River we have found Blackberries, Wild Plums, Red Plums and Black Plums, along with Apples and what looks like Crabapples. And we have picked some from all of them!
Here is my rundown on those women’s work load. In mid to late June you start checking out your Huckleberry spot and then pick when ripe. Now you have gallons of Huckleberries to can, make into jam and jelly, and create some of the best fresh pies and muffins or pancakes, coffee cakes, etc., that one can imagine. Then in July you start pulling in from your garden. Depending upon what part of the country you live in and what you have planted, of course. This is also the time you need to begin checking on the plums. They ripen just a tad bit sooner than the Blackberries. August comes around and you have more produce from your garden and now you get to start checking on the Blackberries. In September you can begin watching the Crabapples and Elderberries. Then in October – right after the first good frost – you can start working on the Apples. And, if you are lucky, you can also get cherries, apricots, Italian prunes, pears, and the domestic plum.
Between every one of these cycles you will be canning or freezing your fresh produce and/or fruits and making your jams, jellies and pickles. I even found a recipe this year for pickled green tomatoes so you won’t be wasting any of your tomatoes, either! And the beans, barley, wheat, lentils, and other larger crops are harvested in August and September, also. My lesson from all of this is – no matter what time of year it is there will always be something to do! And this doesn’t include all the housework and sewing and mending and regular cooking they did.
That leaves me with one more question, too. How did these ladies ever survive in those layers of clothes without air conditioning while they were doing all that canning? Especially in the days before they had electric ranges??!
Keeping oneself busy during the fall and winter can seem like a daunting task for those of us who are used to being on the go all the time. I do believe that is why so many people in the towns and cities of this great country got hooked on television. (Only my opinion.)
In my household when I was young, even though we lived in town, we didn’t watch television. In fact, we didn’t even own a television until I was about thirteen. So when I started going to Junior High School and High School and the teachers gave us assignments once in a while where we were supposed to watch some documentary relating to history, I would not be able to complete the assignment because we didn’t own a television. Finally, she broke down and got one. Complete with rabbit ears!
Before this I always found things to do to keep myself busy – besides the obvious chores – and often wondered how the other girls found so much time to go to the movies, etc. after their chores were done. That was when I found out that not everybody had the same chores I did.
My most important chore was chopping the wood and bringing it in. You see, we had wood heat, not natural gas or oil. My mother also had a wood cook stove in the kitchen that sat right beside her electric range. She used that wood cook stove in the winter and it would heat up the back part of the house plus she didn’t have to pay for the electricity to use the electric range. She was on a very tight budget so she did what she could to conserve as much as possible. I remember walking home from school and chopping the wood before we ate dinner, or I did my homework. That usually took a couple of hours to make sure there was enough wood cut for the night and the next day, and there was kindling for starting the fire in the morning.
I had a girlfriend whose older brother decided one day that there was no way I could cut more wood than he could. He had never chopped wood before and didn’t know how to tell which pieces would split the easiest or anything. I had been doing this for a few years by then and knew how to tell by looking at it which chunks were dryer than the others and would split the cleanest and easiest. (I guess it was that teenage ego kicking in.)
Anyway, he challenged me to see who could chop the most wood in a specified length of time. I do not remember how long now, but I agreed. I knew I had him beat. I was at their house so we walked on up to my house and I opened the garage doors revealing an almost empty garage. It was early spring by then and so most of the wood had been used over the winter. I grabbed an axe and handed him one and rolled the big old chopping block out into the driveway. Of course, my mother had to come out and see what we were up to. When I told her what we were doing she only shook her head and laughed, and walked back into the house.
He decided to be chivalrous and let me go first. I was the girl, after all! So I looked over a few chunks of wood and chose one that had a nice crack on one side. I knew it would probably split with one or two good hits, if I placed the axe just right. Then I proceeded to split it with one good, solid hit! His turn, now. Having no clue what he was doing, this kid walked up, looked around a second, and picked up a nice piece of wood with no cracks or blemishes of any kind. By the third hit it still hadn’t split. In fact, he had the axe stuck and couldn’t get it out.
I only made it worse by taking the axe away from him and freeing it from the confines of the wood, thoroughly embarrassing him in front of his sister. And my mother. I know she was watching to make sure no one got hurt. After all, he had never used an axe before. Then, I tried to explain to him how to pick the easiest wood to split – and then showed him by splitting another good sized chunk with only one or two hits. I guess that was more than his young ego could handle, because he turned and hurried off down the street.
Neither one of us ever talked about the incident, but I know it bothered him for a long time. In school, he would actually turn and walk the opposite direction if he saw me walking toward him in the hall. This was my first lesson in getting along with boys. I didn’t realize it then, though.
I guess I got my work ethic from my mother!
My mother with her first husband.
Sarah, the web editor for Capper's Farmer, sent me an email about submissions for a cookbook they were needing to send off to the publisher and mentioned I had said I had my mother-in-law's box of old recipes. I do not remember saying that, but there are a lot of things I don’t remember – especially when I am very busy. I am almost afraid to think about what that may include some days.
So I started going through those old recipes to see if they would be what ‘most’ people would consider ‘comfort food’ and realized some of them weren’t even what I would have called ‘comfort food.' We were raised in different eras and areas of the country so, who is to say what the term ‘comfort food’ entails?
To me comfort food brings back my mama’s beans and dumplings, or homemade pies. She made the best pumpkin pie! I know I am slightly biased; she was my mother. You know, years later she owned up to lying to me. She hadn’t been baking pumpkin pies for me when I was a kid. She had been disguising squash as pumpkin. And I couldn’t even tell the difference! Now I know everybody has their story about what mama made them eat without them knowing it, and that is where my mind derailed for a little bit.
If we can be so easily tricked by our mothers into eating something that we are adamant about hating, what more can we be confused about. (Now we all know where those seeds of distrust started, huh?) You know I actually just found out last year that my mother never really made ‘dumplings’ either! She just whipped up a batch of baking powder biscuits and dropped them into her beans, or beef noodles, or whatever she was making. Cook 15 to 20 minutes and carefully roll each one over and cook another 15 to 20 minutes. It works every single time. Unless you are one of the people who likes their dumplings real heavy. These are light and fluffy!! Delicious! And this brings me back to the conundrum about comfort foods.
Comfort brings memories of ease and being stress free, soaking in warmth by a wood heating stove. Comfort to my husband is having central heat going in the winter and a small bowl of ice cream while he sits in front of the computer. My cousin thinks comfort is not worrying about anything and having everything you want. (I kind of like that one a little myself.) So I started really looking at the recipes, thinking about the area she was raised in and where she had raised her children. There is not much of a difference in some things – casseroles are always good. Hot, fresh from the oven pies and cakes by our mom and grandma are probably the best.
I was more than a little surprised when I ran upon the recipe below. Read it carefully. The Beverly Hillbillies had nothing on this old gal from Alabama. The recipe is for ‘coon’!? And if you continue reading just below that almost straight line it says ‘possum’! Neither my husband nor his younger sister recall her cooking them any of those delicacies, but wouldn’t that be a hoot if they get to heaven and ask her, and she answers ‘yes’? His sister did tell of a story his mother recounted about one of her younger brothers feeding her coon when she was a girl and not telling her until after she had eaten it.
I have come to the conclusion that, like everything else in life, comfort is different things to different people and ‘comfort food’ is just another memory like ‘the good old days’. I really do like those good old days and comfort foods, though.
I was trying to decide what to do my blog on this week and decided to delve into some folklore and write about Paul Bunyan, the giant logger of yore, and his giant blue ox, Babe. Why would I want to write about him again, you ask. Because out here we believe he really did exist! I know you are all thinking I’m crazy. And that’s fine.
Before I started writing, though, I did some research and there are some very interesting stories about Paul Bunyan. One says he was so big it took five storks to deliver him. Another one says it was five ‘giant’ storks. And yet another one said it took seventeen storks! That was one huge baby!
I read one story that said he was abandoned by his parents as a baby in a cave and found Babe in a snow storm during the winter the snow fell blue. In this rendition, Babe was frozen when Paul found him, or her, and Paul took the poor thing back to his cave with him and thawed it out by the fire. When Paul woke the next morning it was to Babe’s rough tongue giving him ox kisses. In another rendition his parents have to use wagon wheels for buttons and Babe was given to him as a gift when he was young. I’m not quite old enough to know which is true, though.
In most of the stories, I have found they all agree on a couple of key points. Number one being he was born in Maine. (Bangor, Maine to be exact in one story.) And he used to run around Minnesota a lot, and that was how the 10,000 lakes were formed. In one story he even created the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe behind him while he and Babe were traveling through Arizona. That was purely by accident, mind you.
Out here we still have Paul Bunyan Days in the small town of St. Maries, Idaho. St. Maries is in the northern part of the state by Lake Chatcolet and the St. Joe River. It is a gorgeous area with fishing and outdoor sports of all kinds.
Every Labor Day they have a three day event called Paul Bunyan Days where they honor Paul and his sidekick Babe, the blue ox. There are carnival rides and games, food booths, logging competitions of all kinds, and antique car shows. When I was younger I remember going to Paul Bunyan Days and wondering how those men ever stayed on the logs when they did the log rolling. They held them in the swimming pool instead of the river, I guess for safety issues. Paul and Babe are really a big deal up here. Not just for the folklore. I can already hear you laughing so I am prepared to offer up some proof.
To set the stage a little bit, I have a couple of photos of the canyons around the Asotin and Peola, Washington area. To get through these areas you had to have several good animals to pull your wagons, a good sturdy horse to carry you, or some mighty strong legs. Unless, of course, you were Paul Bunyan, then it wouldn’t take very many of those long strides to get you over these hills.
And now for the proof you’ve been waiting for - pictures! We have pictures of his footprints! I know these have to be from Paul Bunyan because they are too big for Bigfoot even. (And, yes, we know he lives out here, too.) The first photo is of the most distinct print, while the second photo shows both prints. The footprint closer to the camera is not quite as perfect, but if you look you can see it. We figure you don’t see Babe’s prints next to Paul’s because he stayed down in the creek bed where there was plenty of water. Smart ox, huh?