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It Wouldn’t Be Summer Without Pickles

Twenty pounds is a lot of cucumbers.  What was I thinking? 

              I wanted two crock churns, not just one, filled with sweet pickles like Mom used to make. Forty years ago, she gave me the recipe that she wrote on a 3” x 5” card; now it’s covered with dark splotches where I’ve splattered brine and vinegar and alum water.  Even though I’ve rewritten the recipe, and adjusted it a bit, I still look at Mom’s card before Husband and I begin the tradition of making pickles.

            Following Mom’s recipe, the first time, we washed four gallons of whole cucumbers and placed them in a big crock churn. Then we poured a brine solution, made of four cups of coarse salt and two gallons of water, over them, and let the cucumbers soak for seven days.

            Step two is drain the cucumbers and wash them in cold water.  Slice and put the cucumbers back into the churn and cover them with cold water, in which two or three ounces of powdered alum has been added.  Soak two days.  Imagine how slimy and slick cucumbers were after seven days in salt water.  They felt and looked like they should have been thrown away! The next year, I sliced the cucumbers before soaking them in brine and I’ve never touched a slimy, icky cucumber again.

            My pickles tasted like Mom’s, but hers were evenly sliced while some of mine were paper-thin and some 1/4” thick.  A few years later, Husband got a counter-top food slicer and pickle making became much simpler, for me, not him.  He cuts every slice the same thickness, and finally, our pickles taste and look like Mom’s.

            Step three is drain the sliced cucumbers well and put them back in the churn.  Cover them with one gallon of cold cider vinegar and let them sit for one day and one night.

            Step four is drain and pour all cucumbers out of the churn, but don’t wash them.  Empty one or two boxes of pickling spices in a cloth bag, or a square of cloth, and tie it with strong thread or twine.  Place the spices into the bottom of churn.  Alternate layers of cucumbers and sugar, about ten pounds, until all the cucumbers are covered.

            About 24 hours later, a sugar syrup will begin to form and eventually cover the cucumbers.  Shake the churn occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  The last line Mom wrote reads, “Leave in the churn and use as you like.”  I like that – don’t can – just eat, and we do that well!

            My favorite summertime sandwich is American cheese, sliced tomatoes, and sweet pickles.  I dice pickles for tuna and chicken and potato salads. If I forget to serve pickles for a family meal, a Grand does it for me.  And friends are glad when I serve cheese cubes, crackers and pickles as an appetizer.

            During these days when life hasn’t been like past summers, it feels good to have two full churns sitting in our kitchen.  Summer just wouldn’t be summer without making Mom’s sweet pickles.

The Family Archivist

Last week, when I wrote about reading newspapers, I thought that was my only column about newspapers.  But then Husband brought home two cardboard boxes stuffed with papers from his mother’s home. 

            My mother-in-law, Ann Ray who passed away recently, saved documents from and about those she loved.  She kept personal letters, all kinds of greeting cards, school programs, wedding invitations, birth announcements, and celebration of life programs. Among these are a few newspaper clippings, but it seems Ann often saved the entire paper when a picture or the name of someone she knew was printed. So, Husband and I have looked for those pictures and articles.

            We turned the pages of The Sparta Expositor and The Sparta Tennessean, both published in Ann’s hometown.  We looked through The Tennessean, the Nashville Banner, and local papers, The Citizen, the Herald-Citizen, and the Dispatch.  We searched editions of The Oracle, published by Tennessee Technological University during the years Ann’s children were students.  We saved editions of The Charger, the Putnam County Senior High School paper, to give to Husband’s brother who was the 1972-73 editor.  And we found the Christmas 1972 Cain-Sloan Co. catalogue, probably because Husband was the Rivergate store manager at that time.

            Going through these many papers, a stack almost four feet high, was a walk back in time.  I cut out my picture with the hostesses of my bridal shower given by Ann’s friends.  There are pictures and a long two-column article, including a description of the bride’s bouquet, about her niece’s wedding in 1970.  In a July 1972 issue of the Herald-Citizen, a picture of Husband’s grandparents and their children was published when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

            Husband and I relived his 1985 campaign for and election to the Cookeville City Council.  There are pictures of Son playing basketball and Daughter with her volleyball team when they were high school students in the 1990s.

             I became sidetracked by local ads and society news.  On August 15, 1967, Kroger advertised stewing hens for $0.29 a pound and watermelon for $0.69 each.  June 1971 Bob’s Shop for Men held a Semi-Annual Clearance sale offering short sleeve sport shirts for $4.50-7.50. In that same paper, McMurry-Roberson had a full-page ad featuring wedding dresses.  I read lists of admissions, dismissals, and births at Cookeville General Hospital.  A 1975 issue published a column entitled, “In and Around Cookeville” which included names of out-of-town overnight guests visiting their relatives.

            Husband and I cut out every article about and picture of someone we know, but after looking through many issues, we said, “Why did she save this?  You look through it.”  Some papers went to recycling intact.

            A paper I’ve turned through several times is the Nashville Banner, published May 14, 1946.  The one thing different about this paper is a section has been cut out – a small 1 ½ inch x 1 column clipping.  This paper might prompt a third column.  What was the missing article?  Is it saved somewhere?

Newspapers are Part of My Story

A daily newspaper is one of those things I didn’t know how much I liked until I didn’t have it. And because a daily paper has always been a part of my life, I miss it.

            On summer days when I was a kid growing up in Pickett County, The Tennessean was delivered by mail six days a week, around 9:30 a.m., and I ran to the mailbox. I handed the news section to Dad, the sports section to Mom, because she was our family’s strongest sports enthusiast, and the living section, including the comics, was mine. 

            And then we’d swap sections.  I didn’t read all the national or state news, but the time I spent lying in the floor and scanning those pages are happy home memories.  From the living section Mom often clipped recipes and Erma Bombeck’s columns, some that I still have. Because Dad worked the crossword puzzle, Mom had to be careful not cut it out on the back of a recipe.         

            Sometimes our supper time conversations were about a newspaper article or a column by Elmer Hinton and it would be read aloud.  The thick Sunday editions were bought at a restaurant in town.  It stayed around the house until mid-week to be reread, and the colored comics were stashed for birthday gift wrapping paper.

            The only time of my life when I didn’t regularly flip newspaper pages was my college years, but as soon as Husband and I owned our first house, we got The Tennessean newspaper.  We added the Herald-Citizen when we moved from Hermitage to Cookeville more than forty years ago.  When it wasn’t possible to get The Tennessean delivered, I was thankful our local paper continued Monday-Friday afternoon and Sunday morning deliveries. 

            I take comfort in routine.  Six months ago, when the Herald-Citizen changed to morning delivery, I often waited until late afternoon to read it.  And after Monday publications stopped, I looked in the blue box under our mailbox several Mondays before remembering there wasn’t a Monday paper. I finally adjusted to morning publications and deliveries four weekdays and Sundays, and now that’s changed to mail delivery three days a week.

            I could sing the newspaper blues, but I won’t. I won’t because I know if the staff members of the Herald-Citizen could make a profit publishing six days a week and employing delivery carriers, they would.  I won’t because I appreciate that we still have a local paper.  I won’t because like many others, I read some newspapers and publications online, and that habit has contributed to the demise of printed publications.

            I won’t because I know I need to be flexible and accept change. Years ago, I was a classroom teacher and complained about having to record students’ grades on a computer instead of in a red grade book, but Dad didn’t sympathize.  He said, “Keep up or be left behind.”

            So, while I miss a daily newspaper, I applaud the Herald-Citizen staff as they continue to serve and provide news in our community.

Weaving Away the Summer

“Gran, did you get more loops?” Lucy and Annabel have asked this question many times recently because these two Grands are weaving potholders.  Cotton, square potholders like many of us made when we were children.

            I’ve had a metal loom and a supply of loops for many years since our oldest Grand could understand over and under and his fingers were strong enough to pull a loop over a hook and his patience long enough to complete a project.  All our Grands have made one special potholder for their mothers, but after Lucy, age 9, made three in one sitting a few weeks ago, I casually said, “Maybe you could sell some of these.” 

            “How much?  Where?” Lucy asked, her eyes open wide.  I sent pictures and a text to two friends and they bought Lucy’s first for-sale potholders.  A picture couldn’t capture Lucy’s pride and excitement when she exchanged potholders for money. 

            Lucy and I made a deal:  she would make and sell potholders for $5.00 and give me one dollar to pay for supplies.  I’d advertise and drive her to make deliveries.  By the next day, she’d made five more.  I sent a picture of those to three people thru Facebook and all agreed to buy.

            Annabel, Lucy’s older sister, wanted to get in on the action so she began weaving.  When each girl had five completed, they sent me pictures and asked, “Gran, can you put these on Facebook and see if anyone will buy them?”   I did and offered in-town delivery. 

            Within hours, those ten potholders were sold and there were orders for more.  The girls were excited and I was a bit surprised.  To date, we have delivered twenty-six potholders and there are orders for twenty more.  

            I asked Lucy and Annabel, “Why do you like making potholders?” Simultaneously, they said, “Money!”

            Then Annabel added, “It’s fun to make them,” and Lucy said, “We get to talk to people.”

            Neither of the girls has a plan for their money, but each can tell you exactly how much they’ve collected.  “Maybe I’ll get something special with it,” Annabel said.  “I just like having it,” said Lucy.

            Making potholders wouldn’t be so much fun if the community center swimming pools were open and my Grands could go places and enjoy their normal summer activities. 

            Lucy’s answer sticks in my mind, “We get to talk to people.”  She and her four siblings have seen very few people since early March.  That Lucy likes to talk with adults, most she’s never met before, while standing outside their homes and while all wear masks, is a sign of the pandemic.

            Lucy and Annabel will remember this summer when they couldn’t go to the pool or have friends over to play or go to church or even go to the grocery store.  The summer when they had fun making and selling potholders.  What began as a way to keep Lucy’s hands busy one afternoon turned into a silver lining of the COVID pandemic and I’ll buy loops as long as my Grands weave.

S’mores and More

“Come for supper.  We’ll build a fire.  Hotdogs and s’mores,” Daughter wrote in her text invitation.  She knew she had me with two words:  fire and s’mores.

            Daughter’s family has a hand-stacked brick fire ring, big enough to burn two-foot long logs and for many people to sit around.   She and I celebrated Mother’s Day sitting with our feet near a fire and dodging the smoke.  That day we didn’t make s’mores; we were happy just to watch the fire and visit. 

            When I was a kid, Dad sometimes built a wood fire on the trash burning fire spot near our garden to cook hotdogs and roast marshmallows.  He’d cut long branches from a nearby tree, and using his pocket knife, he sharpened one end of the branches so we could thread the hot dogs, longways, onto the sticks and hold the them over the fire.  I cooked and gobbled my hot dog quickly to get to the marshmallows. 

            There’s an art to roasting the perfect marshmallow – golden brown and crunchy on the outside and melted on the inside.  Mom taught patience and she told me to turn the stick slowly so all sides of the marshmallow would brown evenly.  Never hold a marshmallow directly over flames unless you want it burned black.  I’ve always doubted those who claim to like burned marshmallows.  How could burned sugar taste good?

            Daughter’s family uses two-prong metal roasting sticks and those are perfect for hotdogs.  The prongs are spaced apart for piecing the two ends of hotdogs and several can be roasted at the same time.  To roast marshmallows, I put one on each prong and held the stick near a log, not flaming, but hot red embers, and I slowly turned the stick. 

            Before the marshmallow crust began to turn to brown, it drooped.  The metal stick warmed the marshmallow inside and the pieced hole got bigger.  “Mom, they’re going to fall off.  They’re hot enough,” Daughter said.  Maybe hot inside, but not brown and crunchy on the outside.  I continued to turn the stick slowly and the marshmallows looked like drawings of elongated raindrops.

            Finally, I declared them done and Daughter held two graham crackers ready.  One topped with two rectangles of a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar.  The other with a Reece’s peanut butter cup.  “Ever tried a Reece’s s’more?  Some people really like them,” she said.   I love Reece’s cups, that combination of chocolate and peanut butter, so I tried a new s’more taste. 

            Some things shouldn’t be messed with.  My second s’more was perfect.  A crunchy, browned, melted marshmallow and warm milk chocolate candy between two graham crackers.  As I licked the melted marshmallow that oozed between the crackers, Husband said, “You know they make cinnamon and chocolate graham crackers.  Those would probably make good s’mores.”             Maybe, but someone else can try those.  I’m declaring myself a s’more traditionalist and the next time I’m invited for hotdogs and s’mores, I might even take my own stick, cut from a tree branch.

In these Unsettled and Disturbing Days

I didn’t want to write about racial issues.  What can I say?  Why voice my thoughts? I’m a white, retired elementary public-school teacher.  I grew up in a small Tennessee county where the only black people worked in the kitchen of a restaurant near the Obey River bridge that spans Dale Hollow Lake.

            When I was young, I sang a song in Sunday School class about people of different colors, and my teacher taught that all people were equal in God’s sight. I’ve never questioned that lesson.

            When I see and hear and read about deaths, injuries, riots, and destruction, the well-known Sunday School song plays in my head.  Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow; black and white. They are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world

            And when I see and hear and read about deaths, injuries, riots, and destruction, I’m sad and feel unsettled, restless, helpless. I think of my friends who are black.  I think of their children.  Their spouses.  Their siblings.  And I hurt for all of them.

            I reached out individually to two black women friends. One was a TTU basketball player and the other is a teacher whose classroom, a few years ago, was right next door to mine.  One has children who are university graduates; the other has young children.  I respect these women and gladly call them friends. Although I haven’t sat face-to-face with either recently, I hope they both know I’m willing to help them anytime.

            So, I asked Leah and Summer two questions. How I can share that although our skin color is different, our hearts, our minds, and our bodies are the same?  That even though our experiences and ‘upbringings’ are different, that our choices are the same?

            Leah disagreed that our life choices are the same.  She’s right; each person’s choices are different along life’s path.  I meant, but didn’t say, our choices in our actions and reactions.  Leah wrote, “I do feel that when we lead with love, we have the best opportunity to learn, overcome fears of the unknown, and build bridges!”

            Summer responded that the key is choice. She wrote, “We can choose how we see those around us, even if it challenges us. We can choose to hear and acknowledge others’ experiences, even if it differs from what we’ve heard or thought before. We can choose to be different from our upbringing, even if it makes our family uncomfortable. We can choose to learn from the past, (including a past that wasn’t written in school textbooks) so that our today and tomorrow are different. Today we must become uncomfortable. So that tomorrow will be a little more comfortable.”

            My friends wrote words that I couldn’t.  Love. Opportunity to learn. Overcome fears of the unknown. Build bridges. Choose how we see others. Hear and acknowledge.  Learn from the past.  Be uncomfortable today so tomorrow will be more comfortable.            

Although my unsettled feelings are uncomfortable, Leah and Summer give me hope for more comfortable tomorrows.

Born to be Grandmother

Ann Ray was born to be a grandmother and Grandmother was the name she chose when she was 47 years old and her first grandchild, my daughter, was born.  For the next 45 years, until her death last week, Husband’s mother lived and loved as Grandmother.  Her last fifteen years, she cherished being a great-grandmother and she smiled biggest when she hugged one of her great-grands.

            When I asked many years ago why she chose to be called Grandmother, because there are so many other name choices, she said, “Grandmother is the name on all the cards.”  Greeting cards were treasures.  She kept them close on the table beside the couch, displayed them on the fireplace mantle, and would say, “Did you see the cards I got?”

            Sending cards gave her even greater joy than receiving.  She knew the ages and interests of all twelve of her great-grands so she chose the perfect card for each.  When she said to me, “Look at this card I got for Samuel,” I knew she’d searched for a card with a picture of a boy and a basketball.  That’s how Grandmother loved. 

            She loved by doing.  Like making an extra recipe of strawberry fluff for family Christmas dinner so my daughter could take it home.  Daughter loved that fluff of Jello, Cool Whip, and crushed strawberries when she was young so even when she was the mother of five, Grandmother made extra.  Husband once said that he remembered eating salmon patties when he was a child so the next time there was a holiday family gathering, Grandmother served fried salmon patties along with the traditional turkey and ham.

            All who loved her have gifts that Grandmother chose or made just for us.  I treasure my cross-stitch sampler.  It’s black with pastel flowers and states: 1983, Susan Ray, Her Sampler.  We in-laws were hers just as her four children who she had diapered and burped.

            Two weeks ago, while Grandmother and I sat rocking on her carport, she said, “Susan, I didn’t think I’d ever be like this.  Not able to get up and do what I want.”  She paused, looking at the sky. “But I guess I’m doing pretty good.  I live by myself.  I can get dressed and talk to people on the phone.” 

            A widow for eleven years, Grandmother lived alone in the home where she and Grandfather raised their four children.  Until a few months ago, she drove to the grocery store and to her hairdresser’s shop every Thursday and to church on Sunday mornings. 

            She was determined to not be, in her words, ‘a problem to anybody.’  Even in death, she wasn’t. When she didn’t answer her phone, her daughter went to her home and found Grandmother sitting in her favorite corner of her couch and holding a TV remote, her head resting on her chest.  That afternoon she appeared to have fallen asleep and taken her last breath.              Grandmother blessed with her love, her gifts, her cards, and she chose the perfect name. We all, sometimes even her children, called her Grandmother.

Roads for High School Graduates

Congratulations, high school graduates!  You’ve successfully completed thirteen years of education and this week you’ll receive diplomas during graduation ceremonies. 

            As students you’ve added layers of knowledge.  You’ve counted by tens and added fractions and found the area of rectangles and solved A x 2 + B x + C = y.  You’ve learned to write d and b with lines on the right and left sides of circles and the difference between a synonym and antonym and how to write an essay.  You’ve heard about civilizations and wars and compromises and peace treaties. You’ve identified seven continents and five oceans and can explain how the Earth rotates and revolves.  

            You’ve gained experience interacting with peers.  On the playground, you waited your turn to go down a slide.  You worked with classmates on small group science projects and social studies reports.  You performed with a group: a sports team, a dance team, a choral presentation, a play, or a debate.

            Everything about your last two months of high school has been different than expected, than planned. But some things haven’t changed: you’ve followed instructions and directions from teachers and coaches and parents. I can hear you say, “Now, I can do whatever I want,” because that’s what eighteen-year-old high school graduates usually think, even us grandparents had such a thought.

              So, now what?  The COVID19 pandemic might limit your plans, but your life as a graduate will be different from that of a high school student.  Some of you will head off to higher learning:  vocational schools, colleges, universities.  Some will start full-time jobs.  Some will combine school and work.  Some will join the armed forces.  Some will accept more home responsibilities. 

            I wish for words of wisdom to ease these transitions, these travels on new paths, new roads.  Two quotes come to mind:  take the road less travelled and take the high road.

            In an English class you probably heard Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”  The last lines read, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”   Those words remind me of when my dad said, “Just because everyone one else is doing it, doesn’t mean you do it.”  And Dad’s example was the foolish one that is joked about – just because everyone else jumps off a tall building, are you going to? 

            Will you take the low road or high road? According to an old Scottish tune, the low road is longer and easier while the high road is shorter, but much more arduous.  Taking the more difficult high road has come to mean when faced with choices the high road is the morally right choice.  Take the more ethical option, the one that lets you have a clear conscience, the one you’ll be glad for your parents and everyone who loves you to know about.             Graduates

Don’t Leave Home Without It

“Bring a folding chair and we’ll meet outside and sit safe distances apart,” my friend said.  As I walked out my back door to join five girlfriends for a backyard visit, I did a mental checklist to be sure I had everything I needed.  Keys. Phone. Purse. Sunglasses. Water bottle. A mask and chair, which stay in my van. 

            Pulling out of my driveway, I thought about the mask and chair – two things I never needed until the COVID-19 pandemic. A mask hangs from the windshield wiper lever and a fold-up chair lays in the trunk. 

            As I drove, I thought of all the many other things that I keep in my van.  In every vehicle I’ve ever owned there’s been a flashlight, maps, and an emergency bag, supplied with jumper cables and a first aid kit. I know I can get directions using a GPS or a maps app, but I like paper maps.  Currently, there are fold-up maps of Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky and a United States Atlas.  And I have a magnifying glass to read the tiny print, but was used recently to see a splinter in a finger.

            Wet wipes, aka baby wipes, a roll of paper towels, disposable diapers, and small plastic trash bags were staples when our children were young decades ago.  I no longer carry diapers, but those other items still come in handy.  As the kids got older, I added a blanket and plastic tablecloth for times when someone was cold or we wanted to have a spur-of-the-moment picnic and needed something to sit on. Last week when I hauled bedding plants, the plastic cloth kept the van floor clean and was easily wiped off.  I rolled up the blanket to brace a rose bush in a gallon-size pot.

            When my Grands began riding with me fifteen years ago, I set a bottle of hand sanitizer in a cup holder and have had one since, and it is refilled often.  A few books, including search-and-find-picture books and riddle books, are in the backseat pockets.  Pencils and paper are always available. 

            Arriving at my friend’s driveway, I wondered if a mask and a folding chair would become forever travelling supplies, like wet wipes did. Because my back is happier when I sit straight, I like a director’s chair with canvas back and seat. Maybe I could switch to a folding chair that fits inside a small bag; it’d take up less space and be easier to carry, but not as comfortable.

            When I arrived at the meeting place and opened my van trunk, I was surprised my chair wasn’t there. Thankfully, I had my plastic tablecloth to sit on so I didn’t have to sit on the ground. I put on my mask and joined my friends.              Back home, I found my chair leaning against the garage wall, right where I’d put it the day before when I took it out to haul boxes, and I put it back in the van.  No one should leave home without a mask and a folding chair.

For the Want of a Sucker

My five-year-old Grand is my ride-around town partner for drive-thru services. After making stops at the bank and the library, Micah and I went to the drugstore.  When I saw several cars in line, I thought the wait might be longer than Micah’s patience so I suggested that I take him home and I’d pick up my prescriptions later.

            “But Gran,” he said, “I want a sucker.”

            “Micah, I don’t think they have suckers,” I said. 

            “Why?” Micah asked.  I hope this question stays in his vocabulary forever and it always deserves an answer. 

            “Every drive -thru doesn’t offer suckers,” I said.

            “Oh. If they do, can I have one?” His hope for a sucker encouraged me to line up behind three cars.

            We sat quietly for a minute and then Micah asked, “Will you ask for six?”

            “Six? Why six?”

            “For my brother and sisters.  Wait! that’s not right!”  And then he began a ten-minute monologue, with many pauses, that required few responses.  Micah named his siblings.  “I need one for Lucy.  For Annabel.  For me. Is that three?  Did I say Elsie?  For Elsie.  How many is that?  Four?  Samuel probably doesn’t care.  That’s right. I need four.”   He had named his older siblings from youngest to oldest.

            “But if they only give you three, they’re for Lucy and Annabel and me. What if they only give you two?  That’ll be for Lucy and me.”  

            “Gran, do you like suckers?”  I do.  “So maybe they’ll give you one if you ask.” 

            “What if they give you only one?  I’ll eat it real fast before we get to my house. Wonder what kind they have? I like every kind. It doesn’t matter what kind they have.”

            Finally, it was my turn at the window. Micah sat right behind me in my van.  I rolled his and my windows down; he stuck his head out the open window.  After hearing my name and birthdate, the pharmacy clerk turned her back to us and I whispered, “I don’t see any suckers.” 

            Micah said, “Me, either, but maybe they’re hidden.”   I wasn’t surprised when the clerk said hello to Micah, but didn’t offer a sucker.  No, she didn’t have suckers.

            The clerk handed me my prescription and said, “You two have a good day.”

            As we drove away from the store, Micah said, “That’s okay, Gran.  I didn’t really need a sucker and nobody else will know that she didn’t give us any. Don’t tell them.”

            A lump rose in my throat.  My grandmother impulse was to buy a bag of suckers, but I didn’t. And I didn’t go to my house and get four suckers out of my chewing gum and sucker stash.

            Micah had accepted a disappointment, a seemingly small one.  Would it help him accept larger ones?  And what about not telling his brothers and sisters?  He protected them from disappointment. 

            My ride-around-town Grand is learning some life lessons that are learned through experience. And I thought we were only running errands.