A Humble Pone of Cornbread

I was raised to understand that every meal had to have bread.  It was very often cornbread.  Certainly my grandparents’ generation ate cornbread because flour was scarce and everybody grew a field of corn.  I guess they got used to eating cornbread about everyday and they kept doing it even as they fed children and grandchildren when store-bought flour was easily had.

Well since I don’t follow a horse and plow all day, chop corn or walk to church I’ve had to rethink a number of these food necessities.  Therefore, we don’t have cornbread very often.  But when we do, it’s a special treat.  I have a girlfriend who’ll eat every bite of cornbread you’ll feed her.  She’ll eat it cold.  She’ll eat it if you leave it in the oven a little too long. 

In fact, I’ve found a lot of folks off the mountain who just don’t quite know what to do with a pone of cornbread.  I guess I find this a little ironic since cornbread is something we mountain-folk can stir up in a minute and have a skillet full before you know it.  We can put it in milk, smother it with pinto beans or slather it with jelly.  And we can make it anytime – gritted if the corn’s not yet dry enough to grind, fried if the oven’s not hot.

My grandpa remembered carrying it in his dinner bucket – he said he just couldn’t enjoy cold cornbread.  But when you’re taking your midday break in the belly of the earth covered in coal dust, you eat what you brought and you’re glad to get it. 

If there’s a slice of this pone left over tomorrow – we’ll be heating it in the microwave.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I don’t usually give much thought to whether my children have a Southern accent or use mountain-terminology.  I guess they sound pretty much like me and all my people so it’s just normal.  But you know that I’m fascinated with the Appalachian vernacular, we’ve talked about there here before. 

A blog I enjoy reading (The Blind Pig) regularly shares Southern-English terms.  I’m often shocked to read words or phrases there that I thought were just regular English.

So when my daughter recently began adding “right quick” to both requests and observations I kind of did a double-take.  The first time it was something like, “Get me some juice right quick.”  Well you can imagine that brought on more talk – we don’t tell Mama to hop to things, we don’t even order Mama to get the juice.

However, it isn’t just the demands of a little diva.  While watching an old Western where the good guy was tied up she said, “He’s gonna’ get loose right quick.”

Where did this come from?  I didn’t realize that I used the phrase, although I suppose I do ask the children to ‘come here right quick’ or ‘pick that up right quick’.  I asked some family around me if they routinely say this and no one admits to it.

It’s always amazing to me the things little children pick up on – and I’m sure glad we are not a family that’s ever accepted ugly language in our home because you can bet they’d pick up on that too!  So I guess listening to them will be a bit of a mirror on our dialect.

So what do you think?  Is right quick widely used or is this a mountain-ism

Harvest Season

The picture leading this blog is from our church bulletin last week.  Don’t those little folders have some of the prettiest pictures?  Well this one is such a familiar scene that it got me to thinking about the memories of the season.

There’s something heady about the harvest season.  The air is cooling (cooling slowly this year), the leaves are hinting at the autumn-brilliance they’ll soon wear and the work of summer is drawing to a close.  Of course the work on a farm never ends and there are certainly hardships in winter.  But we don’t think about those things in the fall.  Instead, we can look at clipped fields and barns bulging with winter stores.  We see the garden turned and waiting for a little grass cover for the winter.  The can house is filled, kids are back in school and it’s simply time to take a deep breath.  All of this is a beautiful picture of God’s blessings.  Even in droughts or floods, when it’s too hot or too cool, when the bugs eat more than their share or disease hits the crops, God blesses us. 

Some things never change.

I think our forefathers more keenly felt this reliance on the land – and on God.  Of course, from way back in Bible times people have been getting the idea that they can manage on their own and don’t really need God.  Every one of those ideas ended badly of course.  It seems to me that it’s getting easier to make that mistake these days.  Now we think we can get a public job and buy our groceries from the store if the crops don’t do too well.  Food does seem to magically appear on the shelves, doesn’t it? 

In 1906 Alfred Henry Lewis said, "There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy."  There's a whole prepper movement afoot today that would probably agree with him, citing that in most homes all the food they have in the house would maybe last nine meals.  Can you imagine what your grandmothers would have said to that statistic?  It would not have been kind!

Barring years of very severe weather and long economic hardship, most mountain farms could go months without a trip to the grocery store.  In fact, many never expected to visit a store more than once a month.  And those visits only brought home coffee, a little sugar and maybe a treat for the kids along with a few dry goods.  Of course, you might have to take a turn of corn to the gristmill, otherwise you’d be eating gritted bread.  And your menu might be a little limited, but don’t most of us eat pretty much the same things all the time anyway? 

For those hard working farmers, if the cow doesn’t go dry, the root cellar doesn’t flood and the barn isn’t hit by lightning then there’ll be something in the pot through the cold months of winter.   Do you think that’s why fall is such a beautiful season?

Making a Mark on the World

Photo courtesy of Musgrave Pencil Company, www.pencils.net

Photo courtesy of Musgrave Pencil Company, www.pencils.net

I’ve told you many times before that these blog articles are chiefly driven by research for the novels I’m writing.  In my latest book Plans for Emma, I have her grabbing a pencil at one point.  While it may seems a strange thing to research, I heard someone talking about quill pens and ink wells and then I wondered just when did we have ready access to pencils. 

Usually when I have a question like this, a quick internet search reveals a date and I move right along.  However, when I queried the history of pencils what I learned about Tennessee history was so fascinating I wanted to pass it along.

We know and have surely established on this website that Tennessee has been rich in many natural resources, not the least of which is timber.  In fact, the timber industry is also central to the story in Plans for Emma.  In that story, timber is being harvested for railroad ties as many thousands of trees on the Cumberland Plateau were.  But did you ever think about what other uses Tennessee timber went for? 

According to www.Pencils.net, Eastern Red Cedar was the wood of choice for early pencil production in America.  This wood was strong enough and did not easily splinter in the writer’s hand; it grew in the Southeastern United States and Northern manufacturers set up wood mills near the source of timber.  In the nineteenth century, Tennessee had the greatest concentration of U.S. pencil manufacturers.  While this industry has seen the same movement of manufacturing out of the states, those pencils produced in the U.S. are still primarily made in the South. 

Photo courtesy of Musgrave Pencil Company, www.pencils.net

Photo courtesy of Musgrave Pencil Company, www.pencils.net

Musgrave Pencil Company in Shelbyville actually bought cedar fence rails from farmers and made those into pencils.  They cut the rails into pencil slats which they shipped to German manufacturers.  Germany had pioneered pencil production way back in 1662.  Eventually Musgrave began making their own pencils, even after the timber source in Tennessee was depleted.  That company is still producing pencils in middle Tennessee.

Not just home for prized Walking Horses, Shelbyville became home to several pencil manufacturers and still hosts Musgrave, as well as pencil imprinters Shelbyville Pencil, and Atlas Pen and Pencil.  

Photo courtesy of Musgrave Pencil Company, www.pencils.net

Mountain Family

Family is a precious thing.  I’ll tell you right up front here that I’ve got tears in my eyes as I try to share these thoughts with you.  Some of my friends have been giving me a pretty hard time lately about all of the family reunions I’ve been to this summer.  I wouldn’t give up a single one of them!

Last Saturday the Key cousins got together as they’ve been doing every September for nearly thirty years.  The faces change some from year to year either because life just gets in the way or sickness or the passing of a generation.  But every face in the group is precious – they are family and to mountain-folk, family is pretty much second only to salvation in importance. 

Melissa Copeland.jpg

This week we had a 92 year old cousin (she’s seated in the very center of the group picture).  While Velma has suffered from a stroke in the past few years, she still walked in on her own and beamed at every one of us.  And I got to visit my best friend from elementary school.   Melissa and I were in school from kindergarten through twelfth grade and I promised I wouldn’t tell how many years ago that was.

John Wesley Key and Sarah Anne Key

John Wesley Key and Sarah Anne Key

John Wesley Key and Sarah Anne Key birthed nine children from about 1883 till 1900.  Of course none of their children were with us, but three of their grandchildren were there.  Velma, who I’ve already mentioned, as well as Betty and Freda were there.  Eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren as well as four folks that were wise enough to marry into this great family.  When you see extended family like this, it makes me think of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:17, “….I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore…” I’m sure John and Sarah never dreamed they’d still be remembered and celebrated nearly 100 years after their passing or that they would be represented by so many descendants.

I’ve said this before and if you stick around the blog, you’re gonna’ hear me say it again.  Go to your family reunions, don’t lose touch with your cousins.  Family is an incredible blessing – even if you can’t identify with everyone of them.  Even if some of your family doesn’t quite do things the way you want, they are still family.  And you will never influence those you never know.