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The Beech Tree

It was an adventurous ride through the woods to the beech tree. Never before had I ridden to the beech tree. I had always walked, or run. But on a special Saturday in September during this year’s Knight reunion my clever and inventive nephews took Charles and me over the hills and through the woods–all the way to the beech tree. Oaky Dover, Nathan Knight (who is deployed now by National Guard to Mexico) and Mitch Harper (married to my niece Evelyn) are determined that Pinedale be enjoyed by our burgeoning family, even those of us who are disabled. Charlie, my brother, has been a great leader as these young people have formed and executed their ideas. For months they have engineered and cut this ATV trail through the forest.

I gripped the handhold and was glad for the seatbelt in the compact and open-sided ATV. I wasn’t at all afraid of Oaky’s very skillful driving. All the same, one can’t be too careful. I didn’t like to think of myself dumped out on a rock or a big tree root. Soon, though, my nervousness turned to awe and glee as we rocked and spun through the woods. At times I wasn’t sure where I was, the forest had changed so much, then I would recognize some landmark. The trail is beautifully engineered to be safe and allow us to see parts of Pinedale we haven’t seen in years. I was wondering where exactly I was when suddenly there we were right by the beech tree.

To me as a young girl with nine siblings, four of whom were close playmates, the beech tree was one of many favorite places to play. It was downstream from Indian Spring, a nice wide clear spring dug out at the bottom of a bluff by Indians a hundred years before. It wasn’t far from our cabin school house, just a quick run, easy to reach for a break between history, geography, and literature. Even then the beech tree seemed both stout and lofty. Its gray bark was like a clear slate, perfect for carving initials.

Though homeschooled, we used the Habersham County curriculum for much of our studies. Every year it was very exciting to go to the Board of Education in town to exchange our old books for new ones on our grade level. Our parents threatened us with severe consequences if we wrote anything or made any markings in our books. The books should be nice and unmarked for the next students. I rather enjoyed finding names and squiggles in my books, a sign that someone else had struggled through the War of the Roses. But, at least for the most part, we adhered to the “no scribble” law. Still, there was something in one’s being that simply requires making a mark.

So if not in a book, then what about the beech tree? Brothers were good carvers and they always had a pocket knife handy. So there are more boys’ initials (and sometimes girlfriends!) than sisters. But it would be hard to prove since, as the tree grew bigger and taller, the carvings became knotty and all but unrecognizable. I could see HBK for Hamilton Brantley Knight, a list of single initials, probably for Pat, Brantley, Virginia, John, and Brenda. The names Grahams, carved in 1978, and above it, Dovers are still quite clear. My sister, Suzanne, and I, with our husbands and children, added those names when we stopped at the beech tree on memorable hikes through the woods.

But fond memories of the beech tree to which, until now, I had always walked or run, didn’t stop at carvings on the trunk. The tree, still so sturdy and healthy, stands on the brink of Indian Brook. Often there we played in and out of the brook according to the weather. In the summertime we caught water lizards and let them slither through our fingers back into the cold water. We dried our feet on soft green moss growing like a carpet near the tree. We hid behind the tree and booed our playmates when they came looking for us. At times I sat by the tree just thinking.

One of my favorite woods games was the one where “It” agreed to be blindfolded, then was led in a circuitous route to some nearby spot. “It,” thoroughly disoriented by the time we stopped, might not even know east from west, especially if the guides chose to spin “It” around. You could only depend on your senses–sounds, smells, and touch. If taken to the beech tree it was easy to be a winner. You could feel the nubby initials on the trunk, hear the chuckling stream, and even smell the damp moss.

At this recent visit I was not blindfolded but still had been somewhat confused on the ride through familiar places, now so different. But I almost cried with joy when we parked right beside the old beech tree. After a good time hunting old initials, observing a cozy camp enjoyed by our young folks, and taking pictures, we started back. We rode by the little cabin school, dilapidated but still standing. We crossed Ramble Brook, spun up Tulip Hill for a quick view of the cemetery and the wonderful new structure another blessed nephew, architect Joe Knight, is building, then back down through what was Apple Bars, across Sand Flat, past the new pond nestled amongst trees, and up the hill to the house.

I am so thankful for those good times when we were growing up and life was so simple. I’m also thankful for family members who take such time now and spend much energy and expertise making these old haunts available to young and old. And, of course, I’m thankful for the old beech tree!

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Hominy Day

One of the very best things about Thanksgiving is simply being with family. I am so thrilled that for Thanksgiving 2017 we will have our son Will, his wife Christi, and their three children, William, Thomas, and Mattie, our granddaughter Amanda Evans, her husband Jared, their five children Candi, Hailey, Caitlin, Charli, and Kaison, and our grandson Charles D Reeves all with us. There will be laughter, chatter, games and teasing–and lots of good smells and eating. One of the children will tell the Pilgrims’ story. Charles will pray. And then he’ll carve the turkey cooked on his new Primo grill (our first time doing a turkey on the grill, praying hard!)

So why did I title this blog “Hominy Day”?

We’re not having hominy for Thanksgiving. Maybe corn, not hominy. But thinking about “being with family” brought me to thinking of the togetherness my birth family experienced all the time, one day, for example, being “hominy day.”

If you arrive at your answer as to whether you like hominy by how that anemic hominy in a can tastes you need to taste my mother’s homemade hominy. Not that it’s still available. But wow! That was good stuff. The memory is delicious.

It wasn’t that easy to make. Simple, yes, but not easy.

First you had to have corn. Dry corn. Off the cob, of course. So you had to grow the corn, which required a lot of hot field work, but which also gave an opportunity for word games and philosophying and teasing to the rhythm of hoes clicking. Harvesting dried corn is a rattly, somewhat itchy proposition. Then there’s the shucking. And there had to be some for the cows. So sometimes Dad supplied corn for such a big family by buying some by the bushel from a neighboring farm. I loved it when Mr. Loggins came in the fall with a horse drawn wagon full of dried corn, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and purple crowned rutabagas (not my favorite, but they were pretty).

We didn’t have a corn sheller. Well, we did too. Seven, eight, however many of us were at home. Sometimes we shelled corn in the barn. That was like a party. We had competitions to see how many of the fuzzy red cobs we could pile up, or someone told a wild story, or we ended up in a cob fight. If you’ve never shelled dry corn with your own bare hands you don’t realize how you roll the heel of your right hand over the hard kernels forcing them off the cob to rattle down into a bucket. And, yes, your hands do get sore before they grow tough. Sometimes we all shelled corn at night in Daddy’s study while Mamma read to us from a really good book like Lorna Doone or Tale of Two Cities.

So one day it would be time to make hominy.

The dried corn kernels would be placed in a very large pot, covered in water with a lot of soda, maybe half a box, added. The soda makes the tiny piece of husk detach from each kernel leaving a cute little hollow groove. The soda also turns the kernels a pretty golden color.

The hominy had to cook all day until the kernels were no longer crisp or hard or tough. They would be soft like little tiny pillows but not smooshy like boiled potato.

Then came the last operation late in the afternoon, usually very cold in November. We had to wash the soda out of the hominy so it wouldn’t be bitter. We did not yet have running water in our kitchen. The hominy washing job had to be done at the spring where there was plenty of water to wash and rinse and rinse and wash the hominy back and forth between two buckets. It was cold but it was fun. You never heard any more hilarity and cackling. If there were a minor accident such as someone spilling some of the precious product and having to pick it up grain by grain, that was just cause for more laughter.

Mamma welcomed us back to the cozy kitchen and promptly began to prepare hominy for our supper. She put butter in an iron skillet and piled the skillet full of hominy. Once she’d cooked it for about an hour it was ready to serve. There was never any left over! But of course Mamma had more hominy not yet fried ready to last several days. As we enjoyed that golden hominy we chattered over various interesting happenings of the day, other than hominy making–a sighting of strange tracks on a sandy beach of Ramble Brook, a discussion on how far away the moon was and its relation to Venus, or the discovery of Boleta mushrooms on Firewood Heights.

As I write this the wind picks up speed and our wind chimes play a merry jingle. I’ve been baking pies, making freezer rolls, stocking up on butter, extra coffees, making cornbread for the dressing, purchasing “the bird,” etc. etc. No, we won’t have hominy for Thanksgiving. And, yes, I am thankful for running water in the kitchen! But mostly I’m thankful for my family and that we will be together–laughing, teasing, telling stories and loving each other.

Happy Thanksgiving, All!

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

 

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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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