Appalachian Thursday — Making Ice Cream

porchOne of our favorite summertime treats growing up on the farm was hand cranked ice cream. Of course, when you have a cow that delivers lots of creamy milk, the ingredients aren’t hard to come by. I suppose we made other flavors, but good ole vanilla is what I remember best.

Dad would set the churn up on the back porch (where we spent lots of time in the summer–see photo). Mom filled the internal cylinder with the appropriate ingredients–cream, sugar, vanilla. Then ice was added to the bucket, rock salt poured over the top, and the cranking began.

We always wanted to help crank, although I suspect we (or at least I) were more hindrance than help. The churn sat on the edge of the porch with the little drainage spout extending into the grass below. We’d stick our fingers in the drip, drip, drip, then taste and marvel at how salty it was.

Once Dad deemed the ice cream ready, we’d immediately pull out the dasher and dig in. Well, after we fought over who got to lick the dasher.

As an adult, my husband and I made ice cream with an old, hand-cranked maker his dad gave us. It was more work than I remembered! After the ice cream was “made,” my husband packed more ice around the cylinder, covered it with a towel and set it aside.

I asked him what the heck he was doing. “Curing it,” he said.

I was mystified.

Well, it turns out you can pack your freshly churned ice cream in ice (or stick it in the freezer) and it will harden. Just like store ice cream.

Who knew?

It was certainly delicious and, well, sturdier, after the ice cream had cured, but I think I’ll always prefer it uncured. Meltingly soft, so you almost have to hurry to eat it–kind of like summer itself, gone before you fully appreciate it.

Then again, I may just be sentimental.

Appalachian Thursday–Lost Summers

rocksRemember when June meant school was over and you had long, hot weeks stretching out ahead of you before you had to think about having a schedule again? Of course, I grew up on a farm, so there was plenty to DO with gardening and haying and general choring. But even so, summer seemed like such a FREE time.

I can even remember–are you ready for this? Being bored! Yes, I got bored on occasion and soon learned not to complain to my mother about it. “Bored? I can give you something to do . . .”

And boredom bred creativity. Out of boredom came the idea to transform a rotted out chestnut tree stump (American chestnut–HUGE stump) into a playhouse. We also had the idea to carpet a clearing in the woods with moss, carefully transplanting sheets of the stuff and then trusting the Good Lord to work his magic (and He did!). We also roamed and rambled, built dams in creeks, got dirty, skinned our knees, read books in the hayloft, went swimming, and a hundred other country summer things.

Of course we got in trouble, too. There were bad decisions and mistakes were made, but I don’t think any of my ER visits happened in the summer. (I do remember a broken toe, but you just wrap tape around that.)

The upshot is we survived and I think we were better for having summers to fill with our own schemes and plans. We worked hard when we had to and played harder when we didn’t. It was wonderful and it gave me such rich material for my writing.

What’s one of your best summer memories?

 

Memorial Day–It’s Not Just Hot Dogs

Veteran
My father-in-law, James Walter Thomas, Sr.

Memorial Day is set aside for remembering those who have died in the service of our nation. Originally, it was proclaimed in honor of the Civil War dead by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The order became official on May 5, 1868, and was first observed on May 30 of that year (next year is the 150th anniversary!).

Memorial Day has also been called Decoration Day because it was the tradition to decorate the graves of those who died in the war. The day was moved to the last Monday in May in 1971 to ensure a three-day weekend (cause that’s what really matters–right?).

In 2000 a resolution was passed to try and help remind Americans of the true meaning of the day. Signed by Pres. Bill Clinton it include a bullet “Encouraging individual department and agency personnel, and Americans everywhere, to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.”

So I encourage you at 3 p.m. this afternoon, to stop whatever you’re doing and say a prayer of thanks for those who have died to protect us and for those who are, even now, willing to do so.

I’ll be thanking God for some of the veterans I’ll be remembering:

  • James Walter Thomas Sr., my father-in-law, who served in WWII.
  • Bill Johnson, a neighbor, who was a  WWII fighter pilot.
  • Arthur “Judd” Loudin, my great-uncle, who lost part of his lung in the war.
  • Gail Phillips, a cousin, who had WWII shrapnel taken out of his leg in my memory.

All of them are gone, but certainly not forgotten. Who are you remembering this Memorial Day?

Appalachian Thursday–People Like These

alternator
That’s my new alternator in the box at the gentleman’s elbow. Never so happy to see a car part!

Yesterday we returned from a trip home to West Virginia. A trip that didn’t go QUITE the way we planned!

Everything was on track until we passed through Rock Cave, WV, and I noticed the bright red battery light on the dashboard. Uh-oh. My husband checked the manual and it basically said, “Hie thee to an auto shop.”

Or something like that.

It was Sunday evening so we went on to the farm, shut off the engine, and asked my brother to make sure the car would start before he left for work in the morning. It did. So we went to the nearest Auto Advantage, 20 minutes away. They ran diagnostics and said everything was fine, but our battery was getting old. Well then. How about a new one? Carl hooked us up–only that didn’t make the battery light go off. Uh-oh.

Next stop was Tennerton Auto Service where Joe checked under the hood and confirmed our worst fears–the alternator was shot. If we could find one, he’d install it–today or maybe tomorrow. Uh-oh. I had appointments to keep!

Back to our buddy Carl who did NOT have the right alternator. Neither did several other places he kindly checked for us. Finally, he called Rick at Fisher Auto Parts (the competition) and they said they’d could get one by 2 p.m. At Fisher, we paid for the part and pondered how to get everything together in one place for possible installation that afternoon (as we drove around, using up our new battery, which was NOT being recharged by an alternator!).

No problem. They’d deliver the new part. I gave Rick a hug.

So we spent some quality time at the farm walking the dog and having lunch until it was time to go back to Tennerton Auto. I walked in, sat down, and within five minutes here came my alternator. (So shiny!) Joe and Juanita chatted with me about the state of the Mountain State and our families and health care and finally I broached the burning question. Would the car be fixed today? Sure thing. Come back before five.

My mom and Jean picked me up and we went back to the farm for a leisurely afternoon of porch sitting and story telling (practically a sporting event in WV). Then back to Tennerton where Joe and Juanita had me all set to go.

Less than 24 hours after that blasted light came on, we had a new battery, a new alternator, and a car that’ll likely go another 90,000 miles.

And here’s the lesson:  There was a point on Monday morning when I could have easily burst into tears. My plans were in shreds, my car was dying, and if God loved me he wouldn’t let my attempts to take care of my family be ruined. I just wanted to hook up Mom’s new computer and take Dad to his doctor’s appointment. (And cook for my brother–I have a notion he needs someone to feed him.)

But God had something else in mind. Instead of me swooping in to be a help, I was helped at every turn. My husband hung in there with me all day. Carl at Auto Advantage didn’t quit making calls until he found me an alternator. Rick and his guys at Fisher Auto Parts got me the part and delivered it. Joe and Juanita at Tennerton Auto Service not only fixed my car, but treated me like family come to visit. And Mom, instead of getting her computer running, ferried me around like the old days.

God surely does love me. So much so, that he let me face a challenge that reminded me of how miracles often look a lot like mundane problems being solved by good people taking care of each other.

Jim, Daniel, Mom & Jean, Carl, Rick, Joe & Juanita–thanks for being angels disguised as regular folks.

 

Appalachian Thursday – The First Cutting

grassesWe’re finally having some truly warm weather with days that might even be what you would call “hot.” And as summer approaches, I’ve seen some folks in the area start to put up the first cutting of hay.

When I was a kid, the first cutting typically came pretty close to the last day of school. For so many children, summer meant freedom–going to the pool, plenty of time to play, vacations. For my brothers and me it meant working in the hayfield–or the garden.

Until I got old enough to be more help than hindrance in the field, my job was to carry Mason jars of ice water out to the workers. Not a hard job, though fresh-cut stubble is mighty hard on bare feet.

When I got a bit bigger, I stacked bales as they were tossed onto a wagon moving slowly through the fields. It’s important to alternate rows for a secure stack. Some days I got to drive the tractor which is almost fun until you get to a steep hill and have to stop and start without jerking bales (or people) off the wagon.

And there was always the need for extra hands to unload the wagon (we used a hay elevator to carry the bales to the barn loft) then to stack the hay inside. I can remember more than one rush to the barn as dark clouds swarmed the sky. Rain is NOT good for hay.

And then the best part–a long shower or a trip to the swimming hole to wash the chaff from places you wouldn’t think it could go. It’s almost worth getting that hot, sweaty, and dirty just so to feel cool water sluice across your skin. Then a well-earned supper perfectly seasoned by the day’s labor. I don’t remember what we ate, but it was good.

Now don’t let me fool you. I worked, but nearly so hard as my brothers and the other boys and men my dad hired to help. Sometimes it pays to be the girl.

And now, as an adult, when I drive by a field of freshly mown hay, or see a farmer tedding in preparation for the rake, then the baler, I roll down the car window and breathe deeply. The smell reminds me of the satisfaction of a barn full of hay ready for winter. And it almost makes me wish I could spend a day sweating under the summer sun.

Almost.

The BEST Reference Books

Hevenly Highway HymnsWhile you can look just about anything up on-line these days, it’s sometimes nice to have an actual book you can take down from the shelf and flip through to find what you need.

That’s what I do when I want to include hymn lyrics in one of my novels. When a character sings, mentions a favorite hymn, or is touched by lyrics, I reach for my 1956 copy of Heavenly Highway Hymns from Laurel Fork United Methodist Church.

By the time I was a kid in the 70s, we’d replaced the worn, softcover hymnals with foil stamped hardback copies. But, of course, no one threw away the old ones. So, probably 15 years ago, I asked for one of the 1956 copies (turns out to be the first printing). And now I treasure it. And refer to it often when working on a manuscript.

The problem is, once I dip into those fragile pages, I am typically lost. On the way to Rock of Ages–#225–I stumble across #241. And I have to sing it (aloud if no one’s around). Who can resist a chorus like, “Lord, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land . . . In the shade of the tree of life that it may ever stand; Where I can hear the angels sing and shake Jesus’ hand; Yes, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land.”

I can hear Smutt and Anna, Uncle Willis and Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Bess, Mom & Dad, Glenn and Mary, Freddie and Mary and all the others singing a capella because no one could play the piano that almost always sat silent at the front of the church. Freddie hit the bass notes.

And what’s even better, is that my book is a shape note hymnal. It’s an old-style of singing where each note (do, re, mi, etc.) is assigned a specific shape (diamond, square, triangle, etc.). It was a way to teach folks to sing without having to teach them to read music.

Trust and ObeyWhile my impromptu hymn-singing when I’m supposed to be writing can turn into a serious distraction, I think it’s also really helpful. Because I write about Appalachia–where shape note (or sacred harp) singing still hangs on. And those side trips back to my childhood in a one-room church where I first learned to call God by name–well, that’s why I write. It’s good to be reminded. And maybe to sing a few verses of #99, “When we walk with the Lord, In the light of His word, What a glory He sheds on our way!”

An Anniversary Outhouse Memory

wedding dayToday is our 21st wedding anniversary and I’ve decided to re-run a version of last year’s anniversary post. Our wedding was uniquely Appalachian for several reasons, not the least of which was that the only “facility” at our wedding was . . . an outhouse.

We got married at Laurel Fork United Methodist Church in West Virginia. I’m the fourth or fifth generation in my family to attend the little, white church on the hill and it was where I wanted to pledge my heart to my husband for life.

The church is OLD and creaky, but it does have modern updates. We traded the pot-bellied, coal-burning stoves for gas heaters and installed a drop ceiling to help keep the heat in on cold winter mornings (I’m kind of sad about that). And we eventually updated the wiring so it wouldn’t burn the church down. It’s simple but picturesque.

We invited our friends and family to the ceremony, but didn’t expect many to make the trek to a remote hilltop in West Virginia for the nuptials. Those who did travel from SC (where we lived then) were encouraged to use the facilities at their hotel before coming to the church 30 minutes away in Laurel Fork.

Ha-ha, they thought, a West Virginia joke.

Nope. The closest thing there is to running water is the downspout at the corner. Even today the only bathroom is an outhouse. Of course, some adventurous souls might have enjoyed the experience, but I’m pretty sure everyone crossed their legs until the reception back in town.

When I was a kid, we actually had TWO outhouses at church. One for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. The ladies had two compartments (fancy) each with a separate door for privacy. It was painted white and tucked back in the trees behind the church for discretion. Unfortunately, it’s leafy, protected eaves seemed to be prime spots for wasps to build their nests, but you often have to sacrifice something for the sake of your dignity.

The men’s outhouse is a much roomier one-seater with an open end that serves as an, ahhh, urinal. It’s closer to the doors of the church, which often made it preferable when I was young. The wooden seat was worn remarkably smooth and there was always a stack of church bulletins in place of toilet paper. Waste not, want not.

And honestly? It wasn’t unpleasant to use. Oh, it wasn’t great on a January morning, but in general, it served just fine. It smelled of worn wood as much as, well, what you’d expect, and members of the church maintained both outhouses so they stayed relatively pleasant. MUCH nicer than any port-o-let I’ve ever been in.

Outhouses have become something of a redneck or hillbilly joke, but I’ve used them (although NOT while wearing a wedding dress) and they’re no joke. They’re just the best way to deal with a necessity in a place with no running water.

Of course, the standing joke is that every outhouse is too close to the back door in the summer and too far away in the winter. You can probably guess why.