The Lost Art of Redneck Cookery, Historical Excursions, and Inevitability

It is fortunate that my grandmothers taught me how to cook. Since it is legend in my family that my Mom’s atrocious culinary offerings caused Suzie the Dachshund’s premature death, I’m glad my grandmothers were around.  In all fairness, Suzie wasn’t a particularly picky eater, even for a dog.  She was known to eat underwear, socks, rocks, her own poo, Barbie heads and assorted limbs, and pretty much anything else that would fit in her gaping maw.  So Mom’s cooking- I can still see the mashed potatoes with the big black burnt flakes and the accompanying “gravy” that was the texture, flavor, and consistency of partially hardened concrete- might have been a contributing factor or even the final tipping point, considering Suzie’s complete lack of discernment in her eating habits.   

I won’t say that I am the best cook there is by a long shot, but I can hold my own with most old-time redneck cuisine.  I can roll my own noodles, (no I do not “roll my own” anything else, except maybe pie crust) fry chicken, grill steaks, bake breads, pies, cakes and cookies, make soups and casseroles and roasts, etc.  Unfortunately these are skills that most young people see as being quaint and obsolete.  I could not be any more weird to the kids if I went out and shot deer, tanned the hides and made my own shoes .  My son and his friends consider microwaved ramen noodles, pizza delivery, and Taco Bell to be the apex of fine dining. 

The relevance of learning cooking skills  just doesn’t register with the POMC.  He worked at Taco Bell for two years and figured that was enough cooking for him.   He thought I was completely nuts to be boiling a chicken and rolling out noodle dough when you can get chicken-n-noodles all ready to be microwaved in less than five minutes, courtesy of Marie Callender. 

In my humble opinion- while some microwave meals aren’t half bad and I am not above eating them on occasion- when you do have the time and motivation to do the authentic slow food thing it tastes better.  My old time redneck cuisine isn’t all loaded down with salt and preservatives and heaven only knows what else either. 

Admittedly, most women of my generation (and most likely those younger than I) are about as clueless about home cooking as I am about football or other assorted man-sports.  My grandmothers’ generation was probably the last generation to consider cooking an essential skill. 

So here I am with my archaic skill sets- yes I can cook and bake, and do needlework for what it’s worth.  I enjoy down-home slow cooking when I have the time.  So there.  But it does disturb me that it’s a dying art.  It’s getting harder and harder to find things like shortening, cornstarch and various spices. Even worse, it’s getting harder and harder for me to find the time.

I am looking forward to Dad’s Birthday Cruise on Saturday.  It’s sort of disquieting for me to go since I’ve not had a classic air-cooled VW for years, but his buddies in the car club are cool and it’s always a good time.  I wouldn’t miss it barring extreme illness or Act of God, since it is also Dad’s birthday party, and an opportunity for me to get him an embarrassing gag gift.

We always go to one or two historical sites in Marion County.  This year we are going to the tiny village of LaRue to see a collection of Jim Thorpe memorabilia and then to check out another guy’s extensive collection of license plates.  Dad is always good at picking out interesting places to go.  I was sort of disappointed that we weren’t doing anything architecturally related this time, (I so enjoyed touring the Harding Home and Etowah a couple of years ago,) but it’s good to mix it up.  I might be surprised at what I get to see.

In a way it is almost painful to go home and revisit the past.  So much that I see in the history of those places points to a future that should have been better and brighter than today.  Unfortunately I was born into a place and time that was just on the cusp of catastrophic decline, and in a sickening sort of paradox, as I grew up, I watched it all fall and disintegrate and decay.

I know the reasons behind the fall, but hindsight is 20/20.  When one is confronted with the lingering shadow of what could have been, that which has become a spoiled, dusty, failed memory, and today’s more sordid reality, it can be disheartening. Sometimes when I drive past the decaying monoliths of a long-dead industry I see my own heart, my own spirit- something that belonged to the past and sort of exists, at least in form, but isn’t really there anymore.

I look at the idle, rusting frameworks and I see my own metaphor drawn out, speaking the unsaid, wrought in cold, dead steel.

Everywhere and nowhere, all points converge here.

I can find divers examples of proof for the devolution of humanity, believe that.  Just go to WalMart.

I don’t know what is more frightening- WalMart in the summer, or the stunning vision (or was that a sight) of fat, bald dudes in Speedos that we were treated to at Put-In-Bay.

The Birthday Cruise always ends at the Marion Cemetery, which I have not even come close to fully perusing despite emptying out my memory card and spending a Sunday afternoon last March taking pictures of almost everything that caught my interest. A 2GB card is not enough, especially if you want high res pics.

I’ve always thought this to be the saddest monument in the Marion Cemetery, poor six year old Wallie.  For being almost 150 years old, his monument has held up remarkably well.  Perhaps a grieving mother put this up years after Wallie’s unfortunate and premature passing, but it is consistent with the often maudlin Victorian traditions of memorializing the dead.  In those days death wasn’t just an Old Person Thing confined to hospitals and nursing homes, shrouded in wiring and tubes and technology and sanitized by distance and closed doors.  In 1864, when Wallie succumbed, death was a Living Room Thing, something that visited old and young alike, that was intimate and piercing and all consuming. 

Perhaps in society’s sanitization of death we have also depersonalized it and in the process have stripped ourselves of some of  our humanity.  We live with the false assumption that we have forever. 

Granted, medical science has come a long way in postponing death.  I would have likely been worm food thirty-odd years ago if not for antibiotics (yes people did die from rheumatic fever) and was almost worm food for sure twenty years ago- even with an eleventh hour c-section.   Delaying the inevitable is exactly that, though.  We all have to die, but we aren’t very good at facing it.

Dylan Thomas exhorted us to, “Rage, rage at the dying of the light.”  I think there is a sort of futility in that gesture.  On one hand there is the tragic death of one who seems to forfeit so much potential- someone young, someone with a great deal of talent, but then there is also the tragic life of one who is suffering and weary of life who longs for the sleep and peace of death and can’t find it.  God can make sense of such paradox, but I can’t.

There have been times in my life when I have wondered why I have been left to suck up valuable oxygen while those who I feel to be more worthy of life die.  That’s a question that I can only leave to faith- and to trust in the wisdom of God.  I figure no matter how long I am here, it’s only for a limited time.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

Mortality, cont., Simple Thanks, “Sin Boldly,” and Whatever I Fear

 

I know it might be considered a bit morbid to troll about in old cemeteries.  As a kid cemeteries used to scare the living hell out of me (along with just about everything else, so go figure) but today I find certain cemeteries to be particularly serene.  In spite of the “buy one get one free” sign in front of the cemetery (Chapel Heights Memorial Gardens) where my grandparents are buried, it’s actually a very peaceful place to hang out.  People fish in the creek that runs in front of the cemetery which could be seen as irreverent by some, but I don’t think my grandparents would mind.  They always enjoyed fishing.

I’ve always loved willow trees.  This is the view of the creek that runs in the front of the Chapel Heights Memorial Gardens.  The peculiar thing about Chapel Heights, as far as cemeteries go, is that the only grave markers they allow are simple flat ones- like Grandpa’s Army marker. There are no obelisks, or statues, or ostentatious carvings. From a distance it simply looks like a park.  The beauty there is more natural than historical.   When the weather improves some (but before the mosquitoes take over) I will need to take another roadtrip up there to just sit and hang out for an afternoon.

My favorite cemetery (now that does sound morbid, but what the hey) from a historical perspective, is the Marion Cemetery – right across from the Harding Memorial on SR 423. The Merchant Ball is there, and you can see where it rotates on its base even though no one can explain how or why it does.   Some of the best examples I have seen of maudlin Victorian era gravestones anywhere are in the Marion Cemetery.  I have taken pics of a few of them (the one at the top of this page is one of my favorites) but I don’t have enough space in my memory card for all the really good ones.  I could literally spend a week in there wandering about and taking pics of cool old Victorian headstones.   There must have been a lot of people in Marion back in the day with a LOT of scratch to spend on their dead relatives from the looks of the monuments in the Marion Cemetery.  Today the place is so poor I’m surprised that anyone who dies now gets a burial or a grave marker at all.  If I would have to make an educated guess, cremation has probably become the dispatch method of choice for the dead, simply for the cost effectiveness.  From another practical viewpoint, I have to wonder about the wisdom of burying dead people in a reclaimed swamp.  Burying people in the ground- even in concrete vaults and steel coffins- doesn’t strike me as being terribly sanitary considering the high amount of rainfall and the poor drainage that is inherent to Marion County- and the rest of Central Ohio.

I am thankful the dryer works.  It can dry a large load in about 90 minutes which is encouraging.  90 minutes is a lot faster than 3 hours plus.   It feels good to have the laundry caught up. It is a relief to know that if I want to wash the dogs, or wash all the living room quilts that cover the furniture, I can.   I washed my bed sheets and blankets yesterday.  Since the dogs like to sleep in the beds I have to wash everything often, otherwise it ends up covered in hair and smelling like dog funk.  I’m glad that Lilo is really the only one of the three that ever gets much of a funk to her.  Clara has almost no odor, likely because of her short coat and sparse undercoat.  Sheena I can’t really explain.  She should reek to high heaven with her thick undercoat,  (Heidi and Kayla were purebred GSDs- and they both reeked no matter how often they were bathed) but for a dog with such a thick coat Sheena is remarkably clean-smelling. 

As far as my ongoing quest to live authentically (which is how I understand Martin Luther’s instruction to “sin boldly”- here is a link to a better theological understanding of that instruction) I can only appeal to the grace of God to overcome my fear.  I can only trust that He will give me the courage and the discernment to do the right thing- and the forgiveness I inevitably need when I screw up.

I’d like to have a spontaneous and unfettered approach to life.  Not being dead broke all or most of the time would help, which would require me to (somehow) get Jerry to pay for his fair share of things instead of just footing the bill myself because I know he throws major fits every time I request money.  He can go to the hell hole and blow hundreds of dollars and to him that’s quite fine, but if Steve-o needs $50 to pay his electric bill and I don’t have it, it’s a Federal case.  Jerry can be generous when he wants to be, (especially to his family, except Steve-o of course) but he simply doesn’t get it. No matter what method I use to explain it to him- spreadsheets, calendars, letting him see my bank statement, etc. he just doesn’t get it that I’m not randomly blowing money on frivolous and unnecessary things (such as beer, cigarettes or gambling, but I digress.) 

One time when I asked him for money because I was dead broke after paying the car insurance, he actually accused me of having an illicit drug habit!  I don’t.  I can’t even drink with the medical issues I have. Most of the illicit drugs out there would probably kill me outright.  He should thank God I’ve never been into crystal or the white powder, or I’d probably ripped his head off and shit down his neck hole years ago.    

Technically one could say that I do have a “drug habit” – but all the drugs I take are prescribed by my Dr.- and are pretty much essential to keep me vertical and above ground.  Otherwise I wouldn’t bother with expensive (though non-frivolous) things like blood pressure meds and insulin.  It’s not like I have the Dr. write me scripts for high dollar face Nair and that stuff that’s supposed to make your eyelashes grow.  (WTF?)  I simply don’t make enough money to pay for everything – stuff like car payments, the exorbitant amounts for various insurances, scripts, groceries, gasoline, etc. and so on- for both of us.  If I did have enough money to pay for it all, believe me, I wouldn’t ask.  I would just pay and keep my mouth shut.

I do draw the line at a few of Jerry’s vices.  I refuse to buy his beer, smokes, or to support his gambling habit. 

In his favor he does pay his own truck payment, and he has to buy his own beer, smokes and lottery tickets. 

Very few things terrify me and stress me out more than arguments about money.  I’ve never been a person of means, and I’ve had to scrape and pinch and rob Peter to pay Paul my entire life.  My parents were never people of means either.  Their most heated and (verbally) violent arguments were always centered around money and (almost always) the lack thereof.  Nothing would send Dad into a rage quicker than anything involving money.   I can’t blame him.  There were times when we were growing up when he had to make the choice between paying the mortgage and utilities or buying food or medical care. 

As a kid I remember weeks of eating pretty much nothing but Cream of Wheat or no-name Mac & Cheese to get by because there was no money for food.  I remember going without things like glasses or dental visits for years at a time, because there was no money in our household for preventive care. Before I could drive it really didn’t matter if I had glasses or contacts or not, so I just dealt with it.  Ignoring my health is likely how I ended up with rheumatic fever too, (you get it from untreated strep infections) because it came to a point when I would refuse to tell anyone I was sick, and I’d even try to deny it even if I was clearly deathly ill.  I knew they couldn’t afford the Dr. visit or whatever scripts he might prescribe- and I didn’t want to hear their fight about how much it cost and how they don’t have the money after the fact.  Now I have permanent heart valve and joint damage.

I should know better at this point in my life.  It’s not about lack of money, but how “household” money is being used.  Right now Jerry pretty much pays his truck payment and sustains his own vices and thinks that’s all he needs to do- while I’m footing the bill for Steve-o,  as well as Jerry’s scripts, Jerry’s food, all the insurances, etc. he insists on having even though it’s overkill, and so on. 

I am dead afraid of letting him get a taste of reality because I know he will do anything he can to punish me for it.

Why I am browbeating myself for expecting Jerry to act like an adult and take responsibility for his fair share is beyond me.  I’m glad he bought the dryer, because I really despise crunchy clothing and I’m not going to the laundromat, but in perspective, that dryer cost less than one month of all the various life insurance that gets deducted out of my checking account- on his insistence- every month.  The dryer is also a replacement for the one I bought for $350 back in 2000 that he has had the use of for the past 11 years, if you really wanted to play tit-for-tat.

I don’t think I owe him obeisance for anything.  For all intents and purposes I kiss his ass to keep the peace- but I of all people should know that feeding alligators only makes them hungrier.  Appeasement is Obama’s foreign policy and it’s not working for him either.

I know what I’m doing.  I don’t like it, but I need to find the courage to change it.