family get-togethers to remember old times … by one o’the nine

Well it’s 2012 already but it feels about the same as the old one what with the Republicans still campaigning since they started around the end of 2008. I don’t make resolutions for the new years. Don’t believe in them. Like dieting, they don’t last long, so I don’t even bother. I did decide to work on a list of things that need doing soon. Like cleaning my half of the office. I’m prompted to do so because I can’t find my plugin for my (old-fashioned, outdated) Ipod. It took me two weeks to remember what the container I hid it in looks like. Now, with any luck, I’ll round it up in a few weeks so I can update and charge it and take it to the gym with me–I NEED the distraction! No matter what they tell me, exercising does NOT make me happy. No resolutions there–just a sincere effort to change lifestyle. That does work. I can tell already. The other big item on my list is to clean up my Wintersong archives–I’m sure there’s a lot in there that would embarrass me now. In fact, I’ve already been rewarded! Back in ’09, before the big C days of 2010, I put in drafts of many one o’the nine posts from my story-telling uncles (now deceased) down in Florida. Lots of people seem to like them, and I thought I’d used them all up and forgot they were there in the drafts. There are very few left now–here’s one I hope you like. With the holidays just past us, I expect some of you have your own stories to tell from your family gatherings. I’d enjoy them if you care to leave a comment.

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009_9-2

Last week I ate supper with all of my brothers who are still living except one. While we were eating, one of them–named “Speckle”–told me he wanted me to write a retraction on something I had written about him. About three weeks ago, I wrote about Speckle sitting in church winding his 75¢ pocket watch. Now the reason he was winding it was so people would know he had a watch. He wanted me to correct a big mistake about him and watch. He informed me that it cost 79¢ and he didn’t want people to get the idea that he was some kind of cheapskate that would buy a 75¢ watch. Well, here is the retraction, Speckle, but it sure looked and sounded just like a 75¢ watch to me. We had a wonderful time together at supper talking about the good old days when we were children growing up on the farm. We only have a chance to get together once in a great while, and when we do you can bet we always have to talk about the good old days.

There were nine of us boys and one girl. The dining room table was a long, homemade table with benches that sat on each side, also homemade. I well remember the good food my mama used to put on that old table for us younguns to eat. There were peas, potatoes, lima beans, cornbread and raw onions. There was all kinds of greens with pot likker. In case you don’t know what pot likker is, it was the juice or liquor that the vegetables cooked in. There is nothing better than a bowl of pot likker and a big chunk of Mama’s cornbread. We also had a big glass or fruit jar full of buttermilk or clabber to go with our meal.

While my brothers and I were together that evening, my brother we call “Goat” asked me to write a story about the times we went chinquapin hunting and also tell about the sassafras tea we used to drink. Well, I would mention it now, but I can’t spell chinquapin or sassafras. I will assure you when I learn to spell them I will tell you all about it.

We had a wonderful time together talking about good times, and may I suggest that you call all of your brothers and sisters and get together again and talk about the good old days. It doesn’t matter if you were raised on the farm or in the city, I’m sure you can find something worthwhile to talk and laugh about. A good laugh will do you more good than a dose of Castor oil.

Postscript: Speckle was my father, although I was not aware at the time that he carried that particular nickname. The reference to “cheapness” is right on. He bought everything according to price tag. My poor mother was never able to just buy something because she liked it even if she could afford it. That explains the plastic panels with garish flowers printed all over that we used on all the windows and called curtains. And the mohair couch we sat on to watch the wonder of the technological age of the times–television! When it was new it scratched your legs (girls were only allowed to wear dresses then) something awful! Does anyone know what Chinquapins are? They seem to grow all over the states, and even in Japan. Some species grow into large trees, but around the swamp land we lived on, they were more like large shrubs and the “fruit” looked very much like chestnuts covered with a protective, prickly bark. I never ate any that I remember because you need special expertise getting them out of the covering. However it’s spelled (Chinquapin seems to be preferred), Chinkapin is the English name. I’ve indulged in a lot of Sassafras tea since it’s something Mama would brew when we were sick and you could still find it in the woods for free, and of course I drank a lot of pot likker in my time. Now if you’re one of the few left who know what clabber is, you get an A and moved to the front of the history class! Cornbread was also legendary in our southern country home. My son-in-law, who grew up in Germany, thinks corn is for pigs, but I don’t care. I’m glad he refuses to touch my melt-in-your-mouth creamed corn, since it leaves more for me to enjoy. But the world, she does keep a-changing, doesn’t she! Don’t forget the family stories!  

time for counting blessings

No, the deer and cat in the picture aren’t ours; that’s a photo a friend sent in an email a few years ago. But “our deer” have begun to appear from the tops of the mountains along the Wasatch to stimulate and annoy the dogs next door. Hubby saw some last week outside the fence surrounding our back yard. We expect to see the coyotes anyday now. We’ve yet to see the little weasel that likes to winter over under our deck, but every now and then a flock of birds stop by to have breakfast as they pass by on the way to someplace warmer.

Every year around this time I’m reminded how hard it’s getting to keep the holidays simple. In spite of what TV commercials imply, the holiday really isn’t about the “gimmies.” It’s my fault. I’m watching too much TV and subjecting myself to too many confounded commercials. There’s so much pressure to “give that perfect gift”. When I was one, kids waited for Christmas to come because that’s when Santa might visit–if you were good–and leave you something really special that you knew your parents could never afford. And whatever you did wake up to Christmas morning–even if it wasn’t exactly what you’d had in mind–was something you probably wouldn’t get any other time of the year. You learned to like it and use it even if you never did exactly love it. There was always hope for next year.

These days, most people have the wherewithal to buy for themselves whatever they need and lots of stuff they don’t. They don’t have to ask Santa or anyone else to get it for them. It make giving gifts a bit difficult to say the least. I decided to make my gift buying simpler by attaching either the receipts or gift receipt to the package, so the burden is on the recipient if the choice is neither needed nor the right one. Of course some families don’t have it so good…and every year the numbers seem to grow. I wish Santa could do something about that but I guess the world doesn’t work like that.

I hope no one will mind another re-run from One o’the Nine during these busy days. I originally called it “When is Enough Enough?” I admit to slight editing in order to tone down the didactic tone my uncles favored in their depression memories, but I think the essential message in this particular piece is timeless. It was written by my Uncle and published in that small Florida press in the mid-1980s. I’m struck by how much worse conditions seem this year than they did two years ago when it first appeared here. Some things never seem to change do they? I thought it especially appropriate at this time of year, since so many families are having or facing some of the hardest times of their lives, losing jobs and homes, sometimes not having enough to eat. I don’t regret being brought up without the focus on materialism that most American children–in fact most of us–fall victim to today, because I know that the best things in life don’t come with price tags.

* * * * * * * * *

Back during the depression (of the ’30s) when no one had any money, and many didn’t have enough to eat and wore patched britches–because that was all they had–we learned to make-do with what we had and appreciate anything we got. We never threw away much because we didn’t have anything to throw away except maybe a spool when Mama had used the thread from it. Back then spools were made of wood and very seldom thrown away. Spools had several uses other than holding thread.Two of those uses that come to mind are handles for doors that had no knobs, and as toys for us to play with.

A piece of string was threaded through the hole in the spool, tied together and the toddlers pulled it around the house. If we were lucky enough to get someone with a sharp knife to whittle the spool in two pieces, we would put a stick through the hole and sharpen it down, making a top (or spinner) out of it.

Other toys I remember making and enjoying as a depression child was a button with a string strung though two holes, tied together, then pulled back and forth making the button spin back and forth to make a buzzing sound.

Another was just a plain piece of twine tied to make a loop, then through manipulation of the thumb and fingers, making a “Jacob’s Ladder.” With that same piece of string and a different manipulation of the thumb and fingers we would make a see-saw–sometimes called a sawmill. I still remember how to make a Jacob’s Ladder and a see-saw. In fact I just recently made a string see-saw with the help of one of my grandsons, and I believe he enjoyed see-sawing almost as much as I did when I was his age.

I find that in this throwaway–discard– computer age, that children can still be amused by simple things. All they need is someone who will take the time to show them how to make the simple toys, and they will thoroughly enjoy them, sometimes more than some expensive technical toys.

It is too bad, I believe, that fathers and mothers can’t take the time to spend with their children teaching them how to enjoy the simple things of life. It is much too easy to buy some expensive toys, give them to the children, then leave them alone so that mother and daddy can do other stuff without being bothered by them.

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Postscript: Back when I was  a kid, around this time of year, I was so mindful of Santa’s elves sneaking around unseen and making notes on how I was behaving, I was a veritable angel, ‘though I’m sure my parents would tell you the opposite if they were here. Christmases were lean enough as they were–in the ’40s and ’50s when the Depression was supposed to be over–that I couldn’t afford more than one or two transgressions between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kids aren’t cowed by elves anymore, at least not my grandchildren. One day last weekend, our 7-year-old Grandson had at least two tantrums in one single afternoon–one of which resulted in his first–and hopefully last–running away from home caper. His mother, who–as a psychologist–has studied enough child psychology that she was prepared enough to wish him good luck and tell him goodbye, was confident enough to wait it out. He left–only to circle around and come back home long enough to get his shoes which he couldn’t find of course, so he left again, barefoot. This time he was gone a bit longer, and it wasn’t easy to resume the wait–this time closer to half an hour before he got too cold and came home.At least part of the reason he felt compelled to run away was that his parents were awful people who never bought him anything. Never mind all the expensive Lego toy sets or the expensive electronic gadgets and almost any kids’ DVDs you can think of including Starwars, it’s just never enough. I have no answer when his mother asks “how do you deal with a problem like this?” I wish I had a magic formula–if I did I wouldn’t sell it, I’d GIVE it away. Because I know our grandson isn’t the only child out there who has never gone without his needs being met who still expects more. His parents are looking into some way to make him understand that there are children all over the world who have real needs, who have no toys and not enough to eat. I hope Santa has some ideas.

would no guns or fishing on sundays make us better people?

Well, it’s been a long time since I posted anything from the Looking Back series my uncles wrote in the mid-1980’s. There aren’t many left and I’ve been reluctant to get to the bottom of the pile. As it has a way of doing from time to time, that file turned up while I was looking for something else, and as I poked around through the unposted pieces, I found this little gem. It begins like most if not all his stories began:

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Back in the early thirties when I was a boy on the farm with my father and mother and eight brothers, things were much different than they are today. In the country that I grew up in, it was against the law to shoot a gun or to fish on Sunday. Even if it hadn’t been illegal, I wasn’t supposed to go because Papa said it was wrong and I was more afraid of him than any game warden or sheriff.

One Sunday afternoon I was riding my horse in the woods back near the river. There was a lake that we called the Black Lake. The river had overflowed and left lots of big fish when it was down. I always carried a cork stopper from a syrup bottle in my pocket with a hook and line wrapped around it.

I rode the horse to the lake and cut a pole from a tree limb. For bait I put a small frog on the hook, and I was ready to catch a big one! I threw my hook into the water and as soon as it hit, a large one grabbed it and as fast as I could throw it in and pull it out, I would have a big brim!

Soon I had a large string of fish, but what was I going to do with them since it was Sunday and Papa wouldn’t let us fish on Sunday? Well, after a short conversation with myself, I decided I’d take them to a black man’s house that was on my way home. This would be better than throwing them back. No one would ever believe that I had caught them if I threw them back.

I took the fish to the black man’s house then and gave them to him, but he insisted that I stay and help eat them. There were several other black men there, most of whom worked for Papa, and soon we had the fish cleaned. Rebecca, the black man’s wife, cooked them. I had to sit at the table with them and being the only white person there, I looked like a pale ghost on a dark night.

The black man that owned the house was named Jessie and was very hard of hearing. Before we ate, Goat, another black man, was going to ask the blessing, but Jessie didn’t hear and began talking. Well, Goat just stopped asking the blessing and said “excuse me Lord while I talk to Jessie.”  Afterwards he continued asking the blessing as if nothing ever happened.

The fish was soon eaten, and I was on my way back home. I know this isn’t an exciting story today, but it would have been in the early thirties because the country was segregated and white and black people did not eat together and you did not go fishing on Sunday.

Children today never think anything of eating with black friends or going hunting or fishing on Sunday. It isn’t against the law and Daddy will carry them fishing or hunting before he will carry them to church.

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Postscript: I’m not sure if fishing or shooting a gun on Sunday was against real law or if everyone in our neck of the woods just thought so. Even I didn’t realize the difference between “family” or “Baptist” or “real” law until after I grew up and decided that whatever was fun was against some law or the other at the time, enough to make you want to get away as soon as you grew up. In spite of all these laws, his humor remained intact and probably helped him overcome whatever shortcomings that we can legitimately blame on our humble beginnings.

Since he was a practicing minister during the writing of Looking Back, naturally he included moral-shaded elements of his newfound religious convictions. He never considered that anything other than having fathers (or mothers sometimes) who didn’t take their children to church on Sundays was the reason they sometimes didn’t turn out so swell in life. If only bringing up children was as simple as taking them to church. Life should be so easy.

His success–as a minister and as a story teller–was no doubt much more the result of the family stories he skillfully wove into his sermons rather than his limited Bible school education.

egging adventure by one o’the nine

As the designated egg gatherer in my family when eggs were still produced by free-range chickens, I often worried about reaching into a nest with a snake snuggling under the hen
(especially after experience bore me out) so I can especially identify with this egg story
my uncle originally published in the April 30, 1987 issue of the Mayo Free Press in Florida in his One o’the Nine LOOKING BACK series. Some of my regular readers may remember my Ode to Chickens post of January 10, but you can read it here if you missed it. Just one more note: Despite the possibility of winding up in the family’s Sunday dinner, which didn’t usually happen if the hen was a good egg producer, chickens lives in those days were probably much happier than those confined to the horrid profit motivated egg factories of today. But retrieving all the eggs was a problem to the egg gatherers–like my uncles, and me in my day. But, there was learning going on–humor, too, depending on which side of the story you were on. Here’s my uncle’s memory:

* * * * * * * *

When I was a boy growing up on the farm in the early thirties, there was an innocence–or perhaps ignorance–that doesn’t seem to prevail with rural children today. We had a bunch of chickens that ran free and made nests and laid eggs in many unusual places. Like under the corn crib, which was only eighteen or twenty inches above the ground. Crawling under the crib to get the eggs was a chore that befell me and my brother two years younger than me. Mama made us alternate going under the crib and getting the eggs.

I was appointed to crawl under the first day and I can still remember the fear I had every time I had to crawl under that crib. The rats had carried corn shucks and fodder (corn leaves) under the crib and made beds under there. It was dark and close there and we never had flashlights to lighten our way. We had to crawl and feel our way around for the hen’s nest and get the eggs and crawl back out without breaking them. Crawling was really belly sliding. When I came to the cross sills I was always afraid of snakes being under there or getting caught under one of the sills and not being able to get out. I made the first crawl, then it was my younger brother’s turn.

It was a real challenge for Mama to get him to crawl under the dark crib. She had to threaten to whip him to get him to go, then when he did he got about one fourth the way to the hen’s nest and sulled like a possum. He wouldn’t go any further, neither would he come back out. Mama begged, threatened and everything else to get him to come back out. In spite of all her pleading and threats he wouldn’t budge. Finally, at her wit’s end, Mama told him she was going to put hot water through the crack on him. Of course she wouldn’t have done anything so cruel, but she did get some cold water and poured it through the cracks. When he saw and heard the water pouring,  my brother crawled out from under the crib. Then guess who had to go under to get the eggs. That’s right!

The chickens also laid eggs in the horses’ feed troughs. One day my older brother and I were feeding the horses and gathering the eggs from the troughs when my brother asked me if I had ever sucked a raw egg. I said no, but I had heard that my grandpa used to suck the insides out of an egg and put the empty shell back into the nest for Grandma to find. My brother, who was older than I, claimed he had done this and that it was gooooooood! He then punched a small hole in one of the eggs with a nail and pretended to suck the egg. He proclaimed how good it was, then handed it to me. I sucked away at that hole and all that came out was raw egg. It was awful, but he had a good laugh. It seems I was always a sucker for practical jokes and pranks but somehow I was always spared from real harm.

Postscript from Wintersong: When I was a child, I spent a great deal of my time under the house. That sounds funny, I know, but most of the old farm houses in Florida–that I remember and lived in–were built several feet off the ground with a few large stones with sand packed at the base served as a foundation.In the photographs (which can be enlarged by clicking on them), you can see the dark space at the bottom where a small child might crawl under and remain unseen. Because the sand beneath the house remained largely protected from the elements, it was usually very white and free of debris. It was warm in winter and cool in summer. Imagine a giant sized sand box, a great place to play and hide from adults who may have one too many chores to pass off to you–until you grew too tall to fit! Being there unobserved sometimes resulted in your hearing adult conversations that would not have been quite as explicit had anyone known you were in hearing shot! and many times I would awake there after a long nap. Funny recalling it now, today I would be scared to death of the possibility of rattlesnakes seeking the same cool spot to hang out at the same time and place.  Thankfully, at the time it never crossed my mind.

when is enough enough?

Here’s one of the dwindling supply of my uncles’ old One o’the Nine stories I happened across today as I was cleaning away the clutter that accumulated on my desk over the year. I thought it especially appropriate at this time of year, since so many families are having or facing some of the hardest times of their lives, losing jobs and homes, sometimes not having enough to eat. I don’t regret being brought up without the focus on materialism that most American children fall victim to today, because I know that the best things in life don’t come with price tags.

* * * * * * * * *

Back during the depression (of the ’30s) when no one had any money, and many didn’t have enough to eat and wore patched britches–because that was all they had–we learned to make-do with what we had and appreciate anything we got. We never threw away much because we didn’t have anything to throw away except maybe a spool when Mama had used the thread from it. Back then spools were made of wood and very seldom thrown away. Spools had several uses other than holding thread.Two of those uses that come to mind are handles for doors that had no knobs, and as toys for us to play with.

A piece of string was threaded through the hole in the spool, tied together and the toddlers pulled it around the house. If we were lucky enough to get someone with a sharp knife to whittle the spool in two pieces, we would put a stick through the hole and sharpen it down, making a top (or spinner) out of it.

Other toys I remember making and enjoying as a depression child was a button with a string strung though two holes, tied together, then pulled back and forth making the button spin back and forth to make a buzzing sound.

Another was just a plain piece of twine tied to make a loop, then through manipulation of the thumb and fingers, making a “Jacob’s Ladder.” With that same piece of string and a different manipulation of the thumb and fingers we would make a see-saw–sometimes called a sawmill. I still remember how to make a Jacob’s Ladder and a see-saw. In fact I just recently made a string see-saw with the help of one of my grandsons, and I believe he enjoyed see-sawing almost as much as I did when I was his age.

I find that in this throwaway–discard– computer age, that children can still be amused by simple things. All they need is someone who will take the time to show them how to make the simple toys, and they will thoroughly enjoy them, sometimes more than some expensive technical toys.

It is too bad, I believe, that fathers and mothers can’t take the time to spend with their children teaching them how to enjoy the simple things of life. It is much too easy to buy some expensive toys, give them to the children, then leave them alone so that mother and daddy can do other stuff without being bothered by them.

* * * * * * * * * *

Postscript: Back when I was  a kid, around this time of year, I was so mindful of Santa’s elves sneaking around unseen and making notes on how I was behaving, I was a veritable angel. Christmases were lean enough as they were–in the ’40s and ’50s when the Depression was supposed to be over–that I couldn’t afford more than one or two transgressions between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Kids aren’t cowed by elves anymore, at least not my grandchildren. One day last weekend, our 7-year-old Grandson had at least two tantrums in one single afternoon–one of which resulted in his first–and hopefully last–running away from home caper. His mother, who–as a psychologist–has studied enough child psychology that she was prepared enough to wish him good luck and tell him goodbye, was confident enough to wait it out. He left–only to circle around and come back home long enough to get his shoes which he couldn’t find of course, so he left again, barefoot. This time he was gone a bit longer, and it wasn’t easy to resume the wait–this time closer to half an hour before he got too cold and came home.

At least part of the reason he felt compelled to run away was that his parents were awful people who never bought him anything. Never mind all the expensive Lego toy sets or the expensive electronic gadgets and almost any kids’ DVDs you can think of including Starwars, it’s just never enough.

I have no answer when his mother asks “how do you deal with a problem like this?” I wish I had a magic formula–if I did I wouldn’t sell it, I’d GIVE it away. Because I know our grandson isn’t the only child out there who has never gone without his needs being met who still expects more. His parents are looking into some way to make him understand that there are children all over the world who have real needs, who have no toys and not enough to eat.

I hope Santa has some ideas.

cooking with granny and artie mae . . . a one o’the nine memory

Day 20 November blogcwriting challenge. Great news. It took nearly 24 hours or scanning, nothing was found, but Hubby did ditch the Skype he downloaded. It’s clear to me that this computer, which he assured me in 2001 I’d never be able to fill up the memory it had…well I almost have. Nothing new will be installed on this machine, and I will begin this weekend transferring all the pictures to flash drives and CDs. I think I’ve set some sort of record in saving junk.

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When I put together my family and friends cookbook and printed it in 2001 as A MOVEABLE FEAST of recipes & memories, I asked members of my family on both sides to contribute a memory about the foods or favorites dishes their mothers (my grandmothers) prepared when they were growing up. The response was underwhelming, but I did get this reply from my uncle, which I share with you here, which covers the great depression years of the 1930’s and ’40’s.

Things that Mama used to prepare and fix for us to eat are still pleasantly memorable. She used to make various sweets during the depression years using cane syrup instead of sugar. Sugar was a commodity that had to be purchased and there was precious little money to spend. I remember a sweet cornbread she used to make and called it “By George.” It was not too bad when there was nothing sweet to eat. I’m sorry that the recipe was not passed along.

There was another sweet bread that Mama prepared that was called “Stickies.” This concoction was made similar to cinnamon rolls, but cane syrup was used to sweeten them. I believe that the most popular food around our house during my childhood was hominy grits.

Grits was used as a meal anytime of day–breakfast, dinner or supper. Grits was eaten hot with butter or gravy (red eye or sawmill). Leftover grits would be firm and was sliced, and eaten with cane syrup, or fried in bacon grease and served warm.

We prepared our grits by shucking (husking)  and shelling the corn and taking it to the grist mill and returned home. We had a meal barrel and a flour barrel in the “little room” which was the walk-in pantry. By adjusting the mill just right, the corn was ground into meal and grits. Hominy grits was sifted through a sieve to separate the meal from the grits.

There was an old lady living in the county who was known for her cooking, and as far as I can tell, she cooked exactly the way every other woman on both sides of my family cooked, but some did it better than others. It was all about reputation I suspect.  Now that I’ve grown older myself and been around the world a few times as the old saying goes, I recognize it as “soul food” although no one would have called it that. When she was getting along in years, Artie Mae’s family urged her to set down her recipes, so she typed them up and had them published by a local office supply store and published them in 1988 as COOKING WITH ARTIE MAE. There’s a version of a recipe she called Quickie Stickies that I’m sharing in Wintersong. It could very well be similar to the “Stickies” my uncle remembered.

Artie Mae’s Quickie Stickies

3 cups sifted flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
6 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1½ sticks butter or Oleo
1½ cups firmly packed brown sugar
¾ cup sweet milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup seedless raisins
2 tsp lemon juice

Sift flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt together. Cut in ½ stick of the butter. Stir in egg and milk just until  flour mixture is moistened completely. Knead dough 5 or 6 times, roll out to a rectangle about 20″ x 9″. Spread with ½ stick of butter and sprinkle with mixture of 1 cup brown sugar and cinnamon, top with raisins.

Starting at long side, roll up, jelly roll fashion. Cut into 12 slices. Melt the remaining ½ stick butter in a shallow baking dish, stir in remaining ½ cup brown sugar and lemon juice. Place rolls, cut sides up, in dish. Let stand 15 minutes, then bake in 425ºF oven for 25 minutes, or until richly golden, and syrup bubbles up in center.

Postscript: Just in case you were stymied by the term “Oleo” in the first ingredient, Oleo was a margarine and those were the days margarine was thought to be better for you–or should I say less bad–than butter. Times sure change. I don’t imagine Granny had the sugar, so she probably used cane syrup made on the farm instead. Sweet milk is simply the southern way of referring to whole milk. Again, those were the days when the milk we used to drink or cook with came out of our favorite milk cows fresh every morning, and was then boiled and used to make butter, as well as sour milk and clabber. That’s why it was important to know that sweet milk was the milk the way it came from the cow or what we call whole milk now. Should anyone be interested, Artie Mae also had syrup pie and syrup cake recipes in her book. Anyone interested in seeing either of those, please let me know.

everyone is beautiful in his own way

I can’t quite remember when it was I began to notice that little girls’ hair and clothing styles are much prettier than when I was a child. My once a year haircuts, and I mean hairCUT as opposed to hair STYLING, were left to grow as nature dictated. That led, alas, to school photos it would be far too embarrassing to post here in order to prove my point. Were people uglier way back when? Are people today really prettier than they were way back then?

My uncle, “one o’the nine,” wrote what he intended as a humorous column about being ugly. As he had a tendency to preach to his Looking Back column readers, I was tempted to omit portions that suggested teacher-mandated church going resulted in uglier but happier people, but upon reflection I decided to reprint the entire May 7, 1987 article as he wrote it except for minor grammatical issues.

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009_9-2A few weeks ago I was at a homecoming at a little country church where I grew up. One of my cousins was there with a bunch of picture taken in the early thirties when I was about seven years old. They were pictures of a group of school children from the little country school that I attended. There were only 15 or 20 children in the whole school.

The one picture I noticed most was taken behind the school house as we faced the sun and schreenched [sic] up our little faces. Truthfully, I believe that was the ugliest group of children I have ever seen in all my life. Papa had just given me a haircut with the horse clippers that he used to cut the mules hair with in the summer. Papa only knew one way to cut hair; that was as long as he could find hair, he cut. My ears stuck out on each side of my head like two pot lids.

I looked like a Volkswagen with the doors open, but I was not the ugliest one in the group. No, ole Shorty was even uglier than I was, but it really didn’t matter. Everyone was ugly back in those days.

I had a great aunt named Aunt Clara, and she looked just like the wicked witch from the north. She didn’t have any teeth and her long hooked nose almost touched her long sharp chin. When Aunt Clara came to see us we always had a good time because she was always jolly and happy; but when she picked up the broom we didn’t know if she was going to sweep the house with it or take a ride on it.

As I write this, I have my three beautiful daughters’ picture before me on my desk. Honestly, I must be truthful–they did not get their good looks from me–but from their beautiful mother. The only difference in me now and then is, I was young and ugly then, and I’m old and ugly now.

But I know for a fact that people were uglier when I was a child than they are now. I also believe we were happier then that they are today. All 20 of us that went to the little country school together each grew up to be a responsible adult, and took our places in society as honest trustworthy men and women, but then we weren’t taught premarital sex in school. We didn’t know about drugs as the young people do today. They taught us ugly bunch of younguns that we had to work for a living and to live a clean godly life. We also learned to read and write and respect other people.

There was a Baptist Church about a half mile from the little school, and when they had revival the teacher would march us up the road that half mile and we had to set quietly in the morning services each day of the week until the revival was over. Maybe you think it didn’t help us much. Well, it sure didn’t do us any harm. Today our children can’t even pray in school without breaking the law.

We may have been poor and ugly and maybe you think it wasn’t right for the teacher to force us to go to church. Maybe not, but we didn’t have to build new prisons each year because of over crowding, and the only AIDS we ever had were BAND aids.

Postscript: I’ve seen variations of the photographs he mentions and a good correlation would be if you imagined characters such as those stereotypical hicks from the 1972 movie Deliverance. The ole Shorty friend really was very unattractive due to very bad teeth and diet related issues that led to his scrawny appearance. As for Aunt Clara, my paternal grandmother’s sister, she did indeed look witch-like due to untreated orthodontia issues, but she was one of the kindest women I ever knew, much like Granny herself.

As a modern woman who was brought up on cliches I remind myself that “pretty is as pretty does,” and “beauty is only skin deep.”  I’ve added one more: Those who look for beauty usually find it.