Eating and Pickin’ With Angels
I come from a long line of storytellers. It could be our Irish roots or our Cherokee heritage. It could be we learned to tell stories from our elders. It is in our blood , and as a child I loved family gatherings because I learned so much from my ancestors. Our gatherings were always around a well-filled table of sumptuous southern cooking. Platters of crisp fried chicken surrounded by puffy biscuits and slick gravy were standard fare. Included in that medley of foods were fresh cooked shuck beans, cucumbers in a sweet and sour dressing, and a plate filled with green onions and tomatoes, new potatoes and green beans, squash, and on and on.
Each member had a story behind their food offering. For example, the fried chicken was the recipe from Aunt Lynchy. She fried up a big platter and left it out for visitors who might come by while she was out chopping wood or planting the field. Passing Kentucky law men and neighbors knew a tasty platter of chicken awaited them any time they passed through. With Aunt Lynchy’s open door policy and tasty handout, she lived to be 104.
Now, the biscuit recipe was my grandma’s. She had nine youngins’ and little money. So, they grew up on lots of biscuits and cornbread. Grandpa Eli would bring home hobos from the train , and he would offer them a “full stomach” guarantee before they left. I remember sitting at the table with these old gents and thinking I wished they had left with a “good cleaning” too. Grandma always reminded me that they might be an angel of which we were unaware. So, we were to treat them with respect and honor. I guess that is why we ate so many meals with the angels.
Shuck beans were Aunt Mary’s specialty. She would grow the green beans, pick and wash them, and string them on a long piece of cotton mending thread. Then, she would put them on the rafters to dry. After they were dried and shriveled, she would cook up the best pot of beans anyone ever tasted. They were seasoned with salt pork, of course.
Grandpa Eli constantly told Indian legends, railroad stories, or nature tales. I would sit by his knee and listen to his tales between his asthmatic wheezing. He used to send shivers down my spine telling me about the big, hoop snake that lived in the meadow. Grandpa explained that he was looking for dandelion or other edible greens, and he would hear, “ Whoopa, whoopa, whoopa.” He would say it really eerie , and I would snuggle nearer to him. “Child, that ole snake puts his tale in his mouth and makes himself into a hoop.” Eli continued, “ Then as it rolls down the meadow you can hear the hoopin’ sounds.” Every time he and I would walk in the woods or meadow, he would ask , “ Can you hear that sound?” And I could.
So, family gatherings trained me in story telling and great cooking. One other ingredient was the music. My uncles played guitars and banjos and had every aunt crying as they sang “The Old Rugged Cross” and “ I ‘ll Fly Away, O’ Glory.” We sang and cried and openly expressed our love for our Savior. These were blessings that I cherish. Family blessed by God is a wonderful start to any year.