Appalachian Thursday – Kilt Lettuce

farm market

A Farmer’s Market haul from late June last year. The spring onions were give out, but there was still good leaf lettuce.

I made my first trip to the local farmer’s market last week. There was an ABUNDANCE of spring greens available along with green onions, garlic scapes, and a few of last seasons potatoes.

Which means it’s time for kilt lettuce!

I don’t know for sure, but I assume the name comes from the fact that the lettuce is pretty much killed (kilt in Appalachia) by pouring hot bacon grease over it. Regardless, it’s a delicious way to take a perfectly healthy spring green and make it decadent!

KILT LETTUCE

8 big handfuls of spring lettuces, washed and torn
2-4 spring onions, sliced
4 strips of bacon
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsps sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2 hard boiled eggs

Fry the bacon and set it aside to cool, then crumble it. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to the hot bacon drippings in the skillet and stir until the sugar dissolves. Toss the lettuce and onions with the still warm dressing and then top with the crumbled bacon. Serve with hard boiled eggs cut in pieces.

Man, who’s ready for lunch?!?

Appalachian Thursday – Funerals

GE DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve attended several funerals lately and it got me thinking about how much a part of growing up in Appalachia funerals have always been. As a child I often went with my parents to funerals. Shoot, everyone went. It’s just what you did.

The two things I remember most were open caskets and all that food. It was rare to go to a funeral where the deceased wasn’t on display. Everyone passed by the casket. The family would be stationed at the head so friends could offer condolences and hugs. Someone would inevitably say, “Don’t she/he look natural.” (My grandmother put considerable thought into what she would wear for burial.) Then, after the funeral, everyone would go back to the family’s home where there would be a ridiculous amount of really good food supplied by the community.

And, of course, there were quite a few superstitions associated with death. I didn’t necessarily see these things, but I certainly heard about some of them. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:

  • When someone died, you stopped the clocks to mark the time and prevent another death.
  • Deaths come in threes. If two people died reasonably close together, someone would always predict a third. I always found this a wee bit unnerving.
  • If you hear a screech owl at dusk, someone will die. I still feel a jolt when I’m hiking in the evening and hear an owl hoot.
  • It’s bad luck to walk across graves. We helped mow the church cemetery when I was growing up. This one worried me.
  • Pregnant women aren’t supposed to look at a corpse lest their child be “marked.”
  • Setting an empty rocking chair in motion signifies death. This one feels like a lovely metaphor more than a superstition.
  • And my favorite–bees carry the news of death.

All in all, these customs and traditions made death pretty approachable for me. And, as the people I care about get older (as do I!), I find myself grateful for growing up in a place where death was very much part and parcel of life.

 

 

Queen of the May

May QueenThere are stories all around us. All you have to do is listen.

A dear friend’s mother offers a wealth of inspiration for my Appalachian stories. Anne grew up on a tobacco farm in Kentucky, but spent considerable time with grandparents in town. While she did help with farm work, she was more likely to be found reading.

And she still is.

Tomorrow is her 96th birthday. One of my favorite stories of hers is how she was almost Queen of the May. When she was a child at school, one of the girls would be selected to lead the May Day celebration each year. This is an old-time tradition that often included a parade, May baskets, and dancing around a May pole. It goes back to the Celtic celebration of Beltane and there are variations galore.

Since it was her birthday, Anne assumed she would be chosen queen.

She wasn’t, but her best friend was.

On the way home, her friend gave Anne the crown of May flowers she’d been given as queen. Anne promptly went home and told her mother she had been named Queen of the May.

But lies, even sweet, childish ones, eat away at our well-being. Anne, overcome with guilt, finally confessed the truth with tears.

So every year, we celebrate Anne as Queen of the May (in the photo above she’s a mere 92). Tomorrow, she’ll get to be queen once again.

Happy birthday Queen Anne–thanks for the wonderful stories!

Appalachian Thursday – Outhouses

Outhouse posterTomorrow is my wedding anniversary–twenty-two years! So what does that have to do with outhouses? Well, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that the church where we married was lacking indoor plumbing.

It still is twenty-two years later.

So, in honor of the outhouse at my wedding, I thought I’d share some interesting outhouse facts.

And no, I did NOT attempt to use the facilities in my wedding gown.

  1. Crescent moons. The crescent moon you often see cut in the door serves a couple of purposes. First, it lets in a bit of light. Second, it was a way to differentiate between ladies and gents. Women got the crescent moon while men had a star. Allegedly, the moon is more common because the ladies took better care of their facilities and so they lasted longer.
  2. Two-seaters. You may have seen an outhouse with two holes and wondered just how chummy folks were back in the day. Typically, the second hole wasn’t for simultaneous pottying. Often there was an adult-sized hole and then a smaller, child-sized hole.
  3. Garbage disposal. There are actually folks who go around digging where they think outhouses might once have been. This is because owners used to toss all kinds of stuff into the opening. And yesterday’s trash is sometimes today’s collectible.
  4. Toilet paper. Often, there wasn’t any. This is where the Sears catalog came in with its nice, soft pages. And if you’ve ever heard the phrase, “rough as a cob,” it originated in an outhouse where shucked corn cobs were sometimes re-purposed.
  5. WPA Outhouses – In the 1930s part of Roosevelt’s Work Projects Administration (WPA) was improving rural sanitation through the construction of Red Cross designed outhouses (see image above). These were luxury models with cement floors, smooth seats, and vents. They were also meant to be fly and vermin proof, although I have my doubts.

All in all, having used an old-time outhouse and a modern port-o-john, I have to say the Appalachian outhouse is the nicer of the two experiences.

Appalachian Thursday – Southern States

growing chicksNo, not the states below the Mason Dixon Line. I’m talking about the cooperative store started by farmers in Virginia.

When I was a kid, we’d go to Southern States to buy things like cattle feed, bulk dog food, bag balm, seeds, medicine for cattle, and SPRING CHICKS. Mostly, going to Southern States wasn’t all that exciting. The store had a kind of chemical/sweet feed smell and there wasn’t a whole lot to interest an eight-year-old. Until the spring chicks arrived.

We’d walk in the store and hear them. A chorus of tiny cheeps. There they would be, moving balls of yellow fluff, walking around, pecking at feed, sipping water, and pooping (it wasn’t ALL adorable). We could hold them as long as we were G-E-N-T-L-E.

Back at the farm, the box of chicks would go out in the barn with a light to keep them warm and we’d visit and cuddle as often as allowed.

But here’s the problem with adorably, baby chicks — they grow into chickens.

And it happens much more quickly than you’d expect. One day some of the fluff has been replaced by rough feathers and soon the adolescent chickens are as awkward as any teenager. Then, next thing you know, they’re just plain old chickens waiting to peck the back of your hand when you gather their eggs.

But isn’t that the way with so many things? Nothing stays the same. Nothing lasts. Seems like Robert Frost had something to say about that when he wrote Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Yep. Baby chicks don’t stay adorable very long. But the memory of them . . . oh, that lasts and lasts. I haven’t gone with my dad to pick up spring chicks in nearly forty years. But I can close my eyes and hear their cheeps, feel the softness of their down, and smell the must and dust of their warming box.

I think Robert Frost was a little bit sneaky. When he captured a bit of gold on paper, he made it stay. Here’s hoping I can do a bit of that myself.

Appalachian Thursday – Signs of Spring

crocusEvery year a few hardy daffodils jump the gun and bloom in February.

Every year we act surprised.

Somehow it seems too soon, but I’ve looked back at notes from five years ago and this is nothing new. Every February the daffodils unfurl seemingly fragile yellow petals. Crocuses appear like someone scattered them in the night while we were sleeping. Sometimes there’s even a buttercup or dandelion smiling up at me from the dead lawn. And this year, the temperatures have veered wildly into the 70s trying to make us think spring is well and truly here.

But I try not to get TOO excited. I can’t help but remember how we often have at least one snow in April and I want to warn my flowers to take a steadying breath and wait.

At the same time, I love seeing signs of spring. I love getting hints that soft, warm days are right around the corner. The ultimate Appalachian harbingers of spring is, of course,  peepers. For a week now I’ve been hearing them each morning and evening in the swampy spot down by the creek. A chorus cheering spring on even if it IS too soon.

Because we’re still going to have some icy, wintry, northern days before it’s time to complain about the heat again. More than once I’ve seen apple blossom bitten back by a late frost. The old timers look at the daffodils and shake their heads. “We’ll have winter, yet,” they say.

I have a terrible habit of looking for “signs” in every area of my life. The catch is, I spend too much time looking for signs and not nearly enough living in the moment. I’m too busy trying to guess what comes next. Planning and anticipating can be good things, but they can also become debilitating. Spring and the future will both come when they’re ready.

In God’s own good time.

A Poem for Remembering

Aunt BessWe all have special people in our lives. Folks who have an impact on us–whether fleeting or long term. I’ve been thinking lately about how many of those people in my life are gone now–Grandma Burla, Aunt Bess, Dusan & Marsha, Aunt Dorothy & Uncle Willis, Smutt & Anna, Grandma Ginny . . . the list goes on.

But maybe, since I carry a little bit of each one of those folks with me, they’re still here in a way. As long as I remember . . .

So here’s a poem for Aunt Bess who shaped my life and the person I am in ways I’m still discovering.

TRUE LOVE

Sometimes love has no motive.
Sometimes love sprouts wild
between the rows of corn,
string beans, and tomatoes.

At 95, Aunt Bess took her cane
and walked me round—
down to the mailbox,
over to the swimmin’ hole,
past the garden where she
remembered her only son
shooting a groundhog the day
he died of scarlet fever.

At 98, she sat me down
on the porch and held my hand.
She talked about Uncle Celly who
appeared like a ghost for dinner
and drew pictures of the Devil.

At 101, she laughed with joy
to see me through the screen door.
She sat in a patch of morning sun,
pulled a kitchen chair close,
asked about people whose deaths
slipped her mind. We resurrected
them there, in that old house,
and they were as good as alive to us.

Always, she cupped my face in soft,
bent hands and said, “You are
so dear to me. So dear.”

At 102 I gave her eulogy, told how
she loved me for no good reason
and how I loved her just the same.