Today was our Annual Fall Family Hootenanny. My Daddy’s side of the family has been doing this for many years. In the spring we have an Easter Egg Hunt and Wiener Roast. In the fall it’s soup and Brunswick stew and barbecue. And desserts at both. Lots of desserts. Our people can straight cook, y’all.
I don’t remember how many years ago it was, but my Aunt Bea–my Aunt’s older sister–who hosts the fall gathering decided to add an egg hunt. A turkey egg hunt. Yes, it’s a real thing, people. The eggs are bigger, and there are not as many, but turkeys lay eggs. And we hide them.
It was a delicious day. The weather was fall perfect. In Georgia that means highs in the low 70’s–we started off in jackets and eventually shed ourselves of them. There were all kinds of foods–the Brunswick stew and the soup were two of my favorites. The broccoli salad was also delicious, and I think it was new this year. (Never did find out who made it, but if you’re reading this and you did, can you please send me the recipe?)
The dessert table overflowed. So many good things, that Cooter said never mind about the stuff in the kitchen, he’d just start with the dessert. I know what he meant. There was a genuine fear of getting too full to be able to sample all the goodies. What I love so much are the things that show up at every gathering. Traditions. Like the mint chocolate chip cookies, the muffins, the lemon lavender cookies, the rice krispie treats, and the beet chocolate cake. Y’all have no idea. When I found out my Baking Cousin was bringing the beet cake, I immediately started craving it. And that slice I had today was very good. So good that I’m going to have to pull out that recipe this week and a can of beets (sorry girl) and try my hand at it again. That sweet girl also offered to make the rice krispie treats–those were Mama’s things and bless my Cousin’s heart. She also made the lemon lavender cookies just because my Aub shared on her blog how much she loved them. That’s love right there, y’all, and we have it full to bustin’. And if you could have seen the youngest great-grand of my Granny’s running around with a mint chocolate chip cookie his Mama made, he was just too cute. That chocolate around his mouth let you know how good it was.
When I first went up to the house and walked in the kitchen, this surprised me. Granted it’s been a while since I was at my Aunt Bea’s house, but it wasn’t there the last time I was. I asked about it, and as she began to tell me about what she’d done, the color went from black to yellow in my mind and I was back in my Granny’s kitchen. This was the cabinet that Granny kept the cereal in, inside of those big plastic cereal containers that you could pour from. I seem to remember Honeycombs a lot, but maybe there were other ones too. I loved the Honeycomb cereal at Granny’s. Eating it from the glass bowls with the daisies around the border. That was happiness in a nutshell back then my friends. As she told me about painting it, my aunt mentioned that it had always been called the Katie cabinet because it had come from my Great Aunt Katie’s. She’s the one who cut our hair when we were little. How one piece of furniture can trigger so many memories and so much history, I don’t know, but it did.
After the meal had wrapped up and we were outside visiting and watching the young’uns run around and play, my Aunt Bea called me inside. She stood close beside me in the kitchen and showed me a true treasure.
The recipe for Brunswick Stew. Handwritten by my Granny. At the top was the original recipe. It began with “1 hog head (clean)” and “4 feet (clean).” I think I remember this being cooked way back when I was little, and that is why I wouldn’t eat Brunswick stew for many, many years. But my Aunt Bea’s Brunswick stew recipe came from the one written below, also in Granny’s handwriting. It’s labeled “good” but also “fake.” That made me laugh. Granny knew what was real and what wasn’t. But she’s right about another thing–it is GOOD. I wanted to eat some of my Aunt’s soup, which was really good, but I also wanted to have seconds of the Brunswick stew. Decisions, decisions. These recipes were hand-written in a cookbook that had been Granny’s. That is a real treasure to see. I am so thankful that my Aunt Bea shared that with me today. I look forward to wandering through the cookbook again.
Yesterday was All Saint’s Day. Last night at our supper table, we lit a candle to remember Mama and Daddy and so many more who aren’t with us physically anymore. Today was about remembering in a different way. It is a celebration of my Granny and all of our people who have passed every time we get together. I love it because we laugh and share stories and spend time just listening and being together. It makes me sad because of the ones who are no longer with us–Mama and Daddy among many others. Too many others. I found myself standing back and just watching and listening and soaking it all in. It’s all just to precious and dear.
On the ride home I figured out why I write. Finally, right? These are the stories I would share with Mama during our phone calls. Or with Daddy as I sat with him in the living room, as he told me the goings on of folks as they drove past his window. I miss sharing my stories with them. Daddy loved hearing about the great grands’ antics and Mama loved getting hugs more than anything in this world. They would have loved being there today. My guess is they probably did.
When I tried the broccoli salad today, I could hear Mama asking me as she would, “Did you try this? Isn’t it wondah-ful?” And when my Uncle, Daddy’s older brother, spoke, his voice had the same intonations as my Daddy’s, and it broke my heart. In a good way. Sometimes our hearts need a crack or two so the light can get in there. And mine has been in darkness for a long, long time.
These family friends I was with today have surrounded me in love for my whole life. They are the ones who say my name better than anyone else in the world. There’s no explaining how to pronounce it to them, nor is there any apologizing for why I am the way I am. They just know. And love. Oh, how they love.
What a surprise it was to see the Katie cabinet and Granny’s recipe and remember the dear person who raised my Daddy and let me sit and talk with her for hours, the one who would ask me before I left her house, “Do you want a pie?” or “How ’bout a jar of pickled peaches?” Then she’d go on the back porch and pull a sweet potato pie out of the freezer or a jar of pickled peaches off the shelf. It was a joy to remember her today.
Tomorrow I will gather with another group of people who loved my Mama, as we light a candle and remember her. It will be an honor to remember the dear, sweet woman who gave me life this very weekend all those many years ago (yes, she was already in labor on November 1–she let me know that OFTEN). And isn’t it funny that it falls on the same day this year? I can’t think of a better thing to do in celebration of all she and Daddy went through to get me here. Take time to remember and maybe this time, I’ll say “thank you.” Because I’m pretty sure that I didn’t tell her that. Ever. When she’d tease me about a weekend of labor, I’d always say, “And wasn’t I worth every bit of it?” And my Mama, being my dear sweet and sassy Mama, would say, “Well I reckon so.” Then she’d peer over her glasses at me. “Most days.”
There have been years I was all about the celebrating, but this year I think remembering will suit me just fine. And the candles that are lit will linger a little longer before they are blown out. They will be for remembering this year. Remembering all the lights in my life that were blown out way too soon. I miss them all so much.
Love to all.