Saturday, August 19, 2017

PAXTON PEOPLE: FEEDING THE HANDS



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Norman Rockwell painting

One of the most interesting families in Paxton is the Comeaux crowd, a wonderful big sprawling clan from Cajun Country, transported to Paxton by Luck, Love, or Good Cookin’.  Back in the Fifties, Mr. Arsene Comeaux and his brother, Mr. Beh’teel came up to the Delta from way down in Louisiana with their Daddy and all his huge earth-moving equipment and know-how, to teach the local farmers how to set in Rice Fields in that rich, cotton-blessed gumbo.

  The two young men weren’t too tall, wiry with corded muscles like great vines up their arms, and could lift a good-sized log and caber-toss it out of a field as well as any good Scots in a kilt.   They were great life-grabbing men, loud-laughing and hard-working and an endless source of romantic giggles and chat amongst the teen girls of Paxton, and some of the Mamas had also been known to primp up a bit before the menfolks came to the house for noon dinner. 




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It became like the old Harvest Times around the county, like in the old days when the horse-drawn reapers and combines with their equally-sweaty drivers would rampage across the fields from dawn til way into the night, with great crews of dusty “hands” gathered to  take in one field after another.   It was expected way back then that the “house” provide the meals for all the workers, and the womenfolk of the family prided themselves on the hearty fare they could turn out from those big old black stoves, those gleaming Amana Ranges, those yellow-formica counters and dinette suites to match, standing right there in the farmhouse kitchens, serving as mixing stations and chopping areas and storage of each successive dish as it was arranged.   

At each succeeding new Rice Farm, the womenfolk would hardly sleep for days, spending nights and all, over piecrusts and eight-pies bubbling away twixt supper and breakfast,  along with great hams and big pots of stew-beef and  spaghetti and meatballs, all ranged down long narrow plank tables out under the trees in the yard.    On the second day, all those good meaty hambones would reappear, in vast pots of pinto beans, set out with spoons and bowls and several black skillets of crusty cornbread, along with bowls of vinegary slaw and platters of sliced tomatoes and sweet onion.   There was a code to those Harvest meals, as unbreakable as taking your very best dish, IN your very best dish, to a Church Supper.   You fed the men well who “made” your living by bringing in the fruits of your labor, even if all you could offer was side-meat and six biscuits apiece with sawmill gravy, along with the last three jars of the plum jelly from your cannin’shelves.



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And so the ladies of the area welcomed the dozen or so workers who traveled with the Comeaux family, calling them in at noon and supper in the same way as their fore-mothers---to the picnic tables in the yard, or under the patio, or even to card tables set up in the living room and den, if they had room.     But there was a bit of difference in the serving, this time---the getting out of fancy glass bowls and calling back and forth between Miss Kathryn Roseberry and Grandma Stewart, both young farmers’ wives back then, as to who was making the Four Layer Chocolate Delight, and who the Apricot Nectar Cake, and which one had prior rights to Sallis-Berry Steak, so that no toes, social or kitchen, were stepped on.

Those Comeaux boys, grown men both, came back and courted two of the Paxton girls whose family tables had held such welcome, and they’ve settled and prospered and become valued families of our little town.   Funny how Fate and Food can bring folks together, id’nit?



   



6 comments:

Val said...

Lovely, Rachel. ♥

BeachGypsy said...

I just LOVED reading this. Reading your posts is not like "reading"---it's like being transported back....to times I remember and lived as well, or times my Grandparents did---and taught us about. Both equally pleasant and fascinating places to "be" for the moment. I grew up eating the pinto beans with cornbread, still make it once a month or so! We always topped ours off with diced onions and doused the cornbread good with the beans and juice...still a good hearty supper, I always have mine with a big glass of sweet tea on ice! People who don't know or have never had it just look at my pinto beans appalled and like "what is THAT?" HA HA LOL--good eating for sure. My Ma-Maw and my Grandma made the "good" old fashioned corn bread in the hot black iron skillet and I grew up seeing folks get a piece of that cold cornbread and pouring buttermilk on it for a before bed snack. I didn't care for that myself, but I love pinto beans and corn bread, do you? I "cheat" and make the sweet Jiffy corn bread mix these days too, my husband prefers it and I do ok with it as well, but boy do I remember good old fashioned skillet corn bread, crispy on the outside and dripping with butter. Thanks for all the memories you stir up in me. Hope y'all are having a wonderful weekend.

Gayla said...

That sure brought back memories of cooking for hay hands! Loved your post!

Kathy said...

I always love your stories, Rachel. They transport me to another time and place. Thanks for this one. Now I'm hungry.

donna baker said...

It would be like Thanksgiving every day, in which I would last about one. All that cooking would kill me, but I did spy a pile of lima beans I could tuck into. No one in my family likes them and they are so healthy.

Chronica Domus said...

Wonderful, just wonderful, and now you've made me yearn to sit at one of those groaning tables full of great food and great people, listening in on the chatting. But, a question for you first. What in heavens is "sawmill gravy"? Do please relieve this Brit's mind as it hasn't a clue, thank you.