Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Keeping Warm With A Trip Down Memory Lane...#TBT

My grandfather's milk bucket and hay rake
     I don't normally like to write uber long posts, but I did.  Sorry.  Punxsutauney Phil really triggered my crazy and sent me deeper into winter oblivion.  With ten inches of snow here in Marblehead last week,  I am definitely looking forward to five more weeks of winter!.......Just kidding.  I open Facebook and look at all the #tbt photos and ponder.  Should I crank-up my super-duper "Turbo Fan" oven and get the warm scents of cocoa, spices and buttery cookies to envelop me in a soft, silky cocoon and transport me to...well......somewhere else? ....somewhere warmer? ... or maybe... just back in time?
     Cold weather makes me think about how generations before me lived and heated their homes. And, how lucky and blessed we are today to have modern amenities, ie. gas heat and baseboard radiators.  Thank goodness. Both sets of my grandparents heated their homes with coal and wood.  I remember well the warmth and the scents that came out of their kitchens. My paternal grandparents, "JC" short for Jay Cecil and "Mate" short for Martha, lived simply and worked hard. Mate cooked on a giant coal stove which was akin to sitting in front of a fire to cook. In the winter, that was great.  In the summer, not so much. 
This resembles Mate's stove. The lift handle in the photo
provided the cook the ability to
lift the burner plate and see the fire inside.

     Consequently when the temps plummeted everyone loved hanging out in or near the kitchen, including Bimmey the dog who could always be found behind the oven, and especially my Uncle Clyde who loved old coffee all day long.  Bleck! Not good.  Lucky for him, there was always a roiling pot from which he could pour.  I wonder what he would say about the flavor of a Starbucks double latte, or a single-cup brew of Keurig, or even the taste of my own roasted coffee beans? What?  Yes, I have roasted beans....once, in an iron skillet. {smile} Jamaican Blue Mountain beans to be exact.  It was quite the reward after a 2 a.m. dark hike (4 hours one way) up the BM Peak trail with my husband and my knee socks to keep me warm (I can't believe it was 40 degrees in the Caribbean).   I really wanted to take some beans home to Bean Town so, I asked.  The growers very kindly obliged and I left the drying station with a little bag of green Blue Mountain coffee beans. I do love a sassy cup o' Joe.  And I am sidetracked here, but I think Clyde would have liked all of the above!  

Blue Mountain Peak just after sunrise.  You can barely see my knee socks.  Why did we have wool caps in Jamaica?

     Back to Mate.  She was a slight woman, with very soft arms, and vintage eyeglasses. Of course I'm a baby boomer, so everything is vintage now. And, I can honestly say that in every visual memory I have of her,  she is wearing an apron. She had auburn hair down to her waist that she forced up into a gibson on a daily basis. She was a master in the kitchen and her talent was producing meals "promptly and prolifically".   She single-handedly kept the farm churning out milk and eggs. Feeding three hungry boys, one girl, her husband and farm hands was her gift and ultimately what defined her.  You see, my grandparents were dairy farmers before technology.  No modern gadgets or shiny equipment.   JC and his sons would have been awake before dawn, would trek to the barn rain or shine, snow or sleet, and milk the cows by hand. They would return to the house for breakfast, then go back to the barn for feeding, clean up, pasturing, and a second round of milking in the evening.   Lunch came in the middle somewhere. The same schedule seven days a week,  24/7/52, like clockwork.

I took this photo about 10+ years ago.  The barn was still standing and it looked
 beautiful.  I placed a few inquiries and learned the house had sadly been destroyed by fire.
I could see the remains of the cellar. At the bottom right corner there was a  driveway and bridge over  

Sandy Creek. You can still see the upper pasture; "The Bull Territory". 

      Just before supper was placed on the table there was a matriarchal march to the "bell";  a necessary ritual, a call to supper.  I would scamper out the back door, along the field stone path after my grandmother.  It seemed a lot further back then but really it was only about 25 yards from the back door.  I can remember being hoisted up early on but after a few years, with tippy-toes I could reach way, way up and pull the well-worn and knotted rope to sound the cast-iron dinner bell.  Victory was mine!  Hungry and smiling men would soon appear and wash up for the big round table. After saying grace we all dug in. I loved seeing my grandfather in his worn, denim overalls quietly eating and thinking God is good. Then,  Mr. Cuckoo in the clock would make an appearance and remind us all that it was time to end the peaceful and splendid meal and go back to ....work. 

 My dad, George.  Jeez, check out that sickle he used to cut hay and clear brush.  

     It was a manageable farm perched above Route 50 in Preston County, West Virginia. (Preston county bordered Maryland and Pennsylvania. and was a 4 hour drive from Washington, D.C. where my parents later worked before they were married.)   On the farm, I remember running through the down-sloping fields barefooted always knowing which tree the bull was tied to, where the plops were and looking for and trying NOT to land on bees.   The driving horses, Mac and Ceese  (not Mac-N-Cheese),  had their own separate and private barn. To me these horses were huge and a little scary, but I liked to visit them because they were the animals closest to the house. My first lesson in convenience - keep the horses close to the house. Got it.   

Driveway to the house and barn.  The big tree (center) was host to one mega hornet's nest when I was about 5.

     Out the back door I would fly to see JC dress Mac and Ceese in leather and jingle. "Gee", he would command and the three of them would disappear for a few hours, so would my sister and I. Our routine was to visit the closest neighbor, which was past the smoke house,  down the hill, over a little creek-bed, and through their barnyard to find the house. The whole experience was Oz-like and liberating to me.  Gloriously, my mom knew there was no trouble and we were free to roam.  We would get a quaint lesson on the buckwheat plant or haying, learn which lamb belonged to which ewe, or hear what the flood rains did to the creek. Quite a wonderful world. Imagine how happy I was later at the University of Maryland when I walked past the sheep barn everyday to get to my classes. Many times I couldn't resist to stop and hold the baby lambs.   If you've never held one before rest assured, yes, they do feel like a fine wool sweater. 

     JC kept annual journals, keeping track of weather and financials.  The little farm did OK in so much that my grandfather was one of a few investors to bring MA Bell to the town of Blueville, next door.  But, who needs phones, right? ....Right.

JC had a daybed right next to a potbelly stove in one of the parlor rooms.
At the end of the day he would rest his tired body and bask in the warmth.
I liked to throw coal hunks in and gingerly stir the fire.

     You see, on these cold days #tbt conjures visions of humble beginnings, good memories and good eats. Simple. Fresh. Organic. Seasonal. And most of all, from scratch and really GOOD. 

    Just the way my grandmother made everything, every day. 


We've come a long way baby! This is my gorgeous oven.  {smile} I turn two dials and presto, I'm in business and my kitchen warms up!

Thank you.

No coal for me.  

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