Monthly Archives: November 2015

Preparing for a Feast

The big question this week is are you ready for Thanksgiving? Yes, I’m ready for Thanksgiving! But I’m still working on the menu and creeping up on the big day with preparations along and along. I know what folks mean when they ask the question. They want to know if I’ve killed a turkey or smoked a ham; they want to know if I’ve baked pumpkin pies yet; and have I picked the greens and dug up the sweet potatoes and creamed the corn. Truth is, I’m fairly ill prepared judging by standards of long ago. But among the many things I’m thanking God for are grocery stores nearby, electric ovens, mixers, microwaves, a refrigerator and, most of all, a family to cook for!

Another thing I’m thankful for is the actual time of preparation. Isn’t it fun! The anticipation is almost as good as the real thing.

That moment when you sit down at the loaded table is certainly special, when everyone shares one thank you and you hold hands for the blessing, when a small person pipes up with “When are we going to eat?” and the man of the house begins carving and the first joke breaks the moment of reverence…that’s what it’s all about. But…wait….

There’s the squirreling away of the very best nuts for the pecan pies, the cutting of the pumpkin and freezing in measured batches for pies, the jelly making, the studying of recipes, the decisions, baking homemade rolls to keep in the freezer, along with pumpkin bread and cranberry bread. And then the last week’s preparations.

Last night Charles and I had a cozy time in the kitchen making cornbread for dressing and sautéing onions in butter. Still recovering from shoulder surgery, I asked him to help since the cornbread simply wouldn’t be as good if not baked in the iron pan, too heavy for me right now. It seemed like a sacrilege to pull out hot cornbread and not even eat any but about the time he dragged it out of the oven his phone rang and he had to dash off to save a snake-bitten dog. The bread was cold and not quite so tempting when he got back about 9:30. This morning I had fun crumbling the cornbread into fine crumbs.

My mother would be shocked to see me buying bags of turnip and mustard greens already washed and chopped. But I hope she would be pleased that at least I’m going to cook a big pot of greens. She would also be disappointed that I’m not putting a big piece of pork or at least bacon grease in the greens for seasoning. But they’ll be healthier for us and quite delicious cooked with a handful of chicken bouillon cubes. I used to help my mother washing the greens, leaf by leaf, rinsing about three times to be sure all bugs and grit were gone. She had far more patience than I do!

My mother-in-law was known at family gatherings for her generous, beautiful dish of creamed corn. I’ve watched her grating the corn laboriously, ear by ear, and freezing it in preparation for Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. When she became unable to cream the corn herself she’d buy frozen sleeves of it and most folks didn’t know the difference when her dish appeared on the table. It was always empty when dinner was over. So I’m buying the corn to prepare as nearly like hers as possible.

Thanksgiving Day would not be complete without preparation of a big fruit salad, fresh if possible. Mamma’s was always laced with mayonnaise, a robust gorgeous salad of mostly apples and oranges, raisins and nuts, sometimes with coconut grated on top. I like to put red grape halves in the salad and sometimes I add canned peaches and pears diced. A can of crushed pineapple gives the salad substance without mayonnaise and the pineapple keeps the apples (and bananas if you use them) from changing color. The fruit salad is the most fun when about three of us at least take part in making it. The occasion always germinates hilarious stories and comments. Probably the laughter makes the salad better!

 

 

I  love to make pumpkin and pecan pies, two or three of each. A few years back Charles began cutting the pumpkin up for me, then I mash it and prepare it. It never occurred to me that it might be unusual to make pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin until a year or two ago when someone asked me “Just how do you use a real pumpkin for pies?” I do not normally puree the pumpkin so it’s not as smooth as the canned pumpkin you buy. I mash it within a lick of destruction with a potato masher so that it’s smooth but with a little texture. The smell of pies baking is heavenly, especially if you use plenty of nutmeg.

Am I ready for Thanksgiving? My heart is. But there’s still preparation to go. And the best part is the children coming home, and the rest of the weekend–shopping with my daughter-in-law, “doing” a 47th birthday with our son, playing with the kids, setting up the nativity scene in our front yard. I love the sound of a basketball bouncing in our driveway, and the whir of bicycle wheels making turns around our circle. I can’t wait!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” Psalm 100:4

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts of My Sister Pat

My sister Pat was as hard to pin down as Maria in the “Sound of Music.” She had tons of energy, could hardly stay in a chair, though she not only earned a college degree, but a master’s as well. For 90 years she brought joy to those around her and never seemed to age until Altzheimer’s took over her mind. Today I’m sure Pat is busy discovering beauty in heaven. But here on earth we’re missing her cheerful voice on the phone offering hot apple pie and coffee. We’re missing her scrawly handwriting in the mailbox. We’re missing her hugs and her laughter about little things or nothing. We’re missing her wisdom and advice and her gentle sympathy.

Let me tell you a tiny bit about my sister Pat.

She was the second oldest of our eleven (including a four-year-old girl who died before I came along) born to Floyd S. and Eula Gibbs Knight of Clarkesville, Georgia. Mamma told me once that she cried when she knew she was expecting a second child because it would displace older brother Orman as the baby when he’d only be thirteen months. But once Pat arrived she was loved and adored. In a family of so many children, it’s interesting to see the definite “places” in order that each one holds. Mamma depended greatly on Pat. She loved each one of us, but Pat held a place of honor and respect a little different from any other. And Pat was extremely loyal to our mother.

That loyalty to Mamma and to all nine younger siblings earned Pat the endearing title of “Little Mamma,” a title she held till her dying day. In fact, by the time she was five years old, Pat was already shepherding two little brothers and a brand new sister. Just to be clear, Pat was not little in stature. She grew to be nice and tall and she chose often to wear beautiful, brightly colored big swirly skirts which fell gracefully from her trim waist. She carried herself with dignity and pride.

A few years ago we found in Mamma’s cedar chest a little red skirt with straps, knitted for me by Pat. I fondled it, remembering how very proud of it I had been. Pat was a knitter from the time Mamma taught her when she was very small. She knitted sweaters and scarves for World War II soldiers. She knitted sweaters, hats, and mittens—and skirts—for a long line of siblings, and then for students when she taught school in Appalachia. In later years she knitted for her own three children, for grandchildren, grand nieces and nephews. And every year she knitted a sweater for the Guideposts “Knit For Kids” project. She told on herself that when she was in college she took her knitting to class. She loved to multi-task. Then one day she forgot her knitting. The instructor looked at her and said, “Miss Knight, where is your knitting today?” She was so embarrassed to have been so pointedly noticed, that she never took her knitting to class again.

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In 1952 Pat married David Peck, a chemist whom she’d met when they both were working on graduate degrees at the University of Virginia. We all love David who is quite an entertainer and adventurer. And, by the way, he has the most contagious laugh of anyone I know. The two of them made a home where God was loved and children were always encouraged. It was a pleasure to visit them, not only because of the scent of fresh baked bread, but for stimulating conversations about endangered species, volcanoes, and speculations on who would play in the World Series.

Pat loved to talk about her three children and five grandchildren, and to show videos of their talents. She did always mourn her little Jeanie who was stillborn at full term. In her last days Pat’s daughter brought her a baby doll whom, most of the time, Pat cuddled and carefully wrapped and protected. I’m sure now that she and her very alive Jeanie are playing in God’s perfect heaven.

Pat wrote letters. Real letters, long and full of descriptions and, sometimes, instructions.When I was little she always wanted to know if I’d been helping Mamma, if I was learning cursive writing, if I was playing outside enough, not reading books all the time. As adults we exchanged many letters by snail mail and then, as we each acquired computers, by e-mail. I printed most of her letters so I could keep them, they were so good. She would describe a storm, write about her children, her church, a play she and David had enjoyed and always—always—wanted to know particulars about all my family. It was a delight to me to see an envelope from Pat in my mailbox.

Another remarkable thing about Pat’s letters is that she kept boxes of family correspondence through multiple moves from state to state. Her husband David recently allowed us sisters to pore over a box of letters written between 1945 and 1952. It is a treasure trove! It was amongst those letters we found the one she wrote to our parents in 1952 saying that she was bringing home THE man of her dreams and, regardless of how our father had driven away previous candidates, this one she WOULD marry!

Pat wrote prayers. Not that she shared many of those with me because it was a private thing for her. But I knew how much her prayer notebook meant to her. We shared with each other heartaches and dreams we had for our children and extended family members. If I asked her to pray about something I knew without a doubt she would.

Pat loved to play games, especially word games. She gave me a Scrabble game in 1952 not long after it was first produced and I still have it. At our birth home, Stone Gables, we might have a dozen or so gathered around the long dining table playing some game or other, maybe Categories which we think she may have made up. Or, there might be two or three groups playing Scrabble, Anagrams, or Authors cards. These games were accompanied by gales of laughter. If for some reason Pat weren’t involved in any of the games she’d be over on the side working a crossword puzzle or, broom in hand, knocking down spider webs.

The last time I saw Pat was at a nursing home just weeks before she died, she smiled at me sweetly, though she didn’t seem to know my husband and me. She was in last stages of Altzheimer’s. There was a little dog visiting with another family in the same sitting area we were in and Pat was very interested in the movements of that little dog. She spoke with words that made no sense but in what sounded like sentences and with facial expressions and hand movements so like the Pat of which she was only a shadow.

She broke her hip because she didn’t know any longer how to walk safely. Confined to a wheelchair then, she still tried to get up, though she couldn’t walk.

But now—now Pat is released! In heaven she’s again taking those long walks she always loved, enjoying flowers too beautiful for us to imagine, and studying birds that may light right on her shoulder. And she’s seeing the Creator of all things face to face!

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