Friday, September 4, 2009

KITCHENS AND KIN

We had a GrandDaddy and GrandMother Green/Greene on both sides of the family. My first Mother-in-Law was a Greene, and was a gentle, lovely woman, a marvelous cook and a wonderful Mother-in-Law. Her parents lived on the homeplace in a beautiful little mobile home, pale turquoise on its Fifties-shaped outside, and inside like a jewel-box. It had the most exquisite paneling---not the “today” stuff, but the beautiful blonde wood of the Fifties, shining and glossy. It was a tiny place, with a wee kitchen with a pink turn-the-corner-sink the size of a teacup, and a Murphy bed behind the gleaming boards of the living room wall.

Papa Greene was a good old fellow, kind to all the grandchildren, an avid garden-maker, watermelon-grower, and orchard-planter. He had stocked the place with peach, pear, apple and cherry trees, and quite a sizeable checkerboard-planted pecan grove. His watermelon patch was enormous, and he’d load up a truck and run into any of the several nearby towns, handing out produce on street corners, laughing and passing the time of day with old friends, as he puffed on a Swisher Sweet.

Grandmother Greene was a tiny, fragile woman, with enormous blue eyes behind thick glasses. She was never really “well,” but she sewed and cooked well into her nineties, and was always impeccably dressed and immaculately groomed, even for doing her housework. She'd wear a freshly-ironed shirtwaist dress, with her stockings rolled just below her knees. She spent a good little time keeping them neat, for her very slender legs required very small sizes. She'd bend and pull and snap, saying, "I like my stockin's tight as hide."
Chris’ own GrandDaddy Green was also a lovely, sweet man. Father of a loud, close, rollicking family, he told me tales of going to “Singing School” when he was young, going off for a week or two to a church gathering, where they would live in the campground, practicing harmonies in the hymns and “good” songs of the day, as well as learning “shape” note music.

I’d go over during the week sometimes and visit with them in the morning. I’d cook a good noon dinner for them, and about the second visit, Mama Green took a look around the busy kitchen, inhaled the aromas of the big pot of Pintos and ham and the crusty cornbread, and asked if she could invite the Preacher. So she did, and the table I had set for four was stretched to accommodate eleven, as the preacher brought his whole family. And so did everyone she invited, every time.

So we sort of got into a habit: I’d drive over about eight a.m. on a weekday, and they’d have some groceries ready. I’d cook and their friends or neighbors or church folks would appear about noon. I think I spent several months helping out with all their social obligations, and they had a lovely little "party" for me over lunch the last week before we moved away.

Mama Green was a fervent Christian, living her life for the Lord, studying her Bible constantly and listening to every radio sermon between there and the Atlantic, and several in the other direction, all the way to Del Rio, Texas. She and Daddy Green founded a good-sized Baptist Church, which has grown from several years of gatherings in their small living room to a large facility with lots of members, a huge brick building with an annex, providing day care, a food pantry, and other services.

In their early years of marriage, Daddy Green worked as a cook in the logging camps, and could turn out a hundred biscuits in the time that we could do a dozen. My own GrandDad was a logger at that time, also, and worked just outside of the little town where he and Mammaw lived. They had a little train track which ran up to the logging areas, and dead-ended at the camp.

At noon dinnertime every day, Mammaw and all the other wives would meet the train, and put their husbands’ dinners aboard for taking out to the work site. Everybody knew everybody’s tray and dishes and the dishtowels used for covers. I’ve always wondered if the ladies tried to “outdo” each other in preparing their husbands’ dinner trays, like Good Church Ladies still do, when it comes to Church Supper dishes.   A Century before Pinterest and Foodies and bright photos of everybody's dinner, these good Southern cooks were totin' fruit jars of Banana Puddin' and Cobbler to the depot on a daily basis.   My Mammaw could split and butter three left-from-breakfast biscuits and circle them  half-by-half neatly into a pint jar, with sorghum between on a day she hadn't made a REAL dessert.Image result for banana pudding in a vintage mason jar
The only free photo I could find with a LID on---it's kinda anemic in the puddin' part, because nobody except organic purists seems to have those good "yellow yawked" eggs any more.


Peas and cornbread, porkchops and gravy, cobbler and banana pudding traveled the several miles on the “dinner shelves” and the dishes were returned empty with the quittin’-time train. I’ve also wondered if any of the men swapped lunches, as do schoolchildren, for a favorite dish from someone else’s kitchen. If they did, I'll bet they didn't let on when they got home.

And so I’ve had two Mothers-in-Law whose maiden names were Greene/Green, both both of them kind, lovely women who welcomed me to their families like a daughter, and became more than my husband’s Mother---they were and are my dear friends.

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