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Bo's Stories, Page 13

THE FAMILY OF BESSIE EDNA BROWN & THOMAS MONNIE WOODS

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“Blackeyed Peas and other Fine Foods”

 

My sister Nell showed me an article from the Longview paper, recently, in which the columnist talked about the foods they had when he was growing up.  He said, “we had thousands of things to eat, most of them peas”.  We were exactly the same.  I told Lloyd what the man said and we had a good laugh about it.

The article triggered my thinking about what we ate and didn’t eat during my early years and I thought it might be of interest to those who happen to read this.  As I’ve mentioned before in earlier stories, there was a shortage of meat in our diet much of the time and we were most always “meat hungry”, that is we lived “close to the bone” as some people say.

 

I recently read a story in the Houston Chronicle that I feel is worth repeating.  It follows:

 

Two boys, 12 and 13 years of age went to a south Texas ranch with their father to dove hunt.  The weather was hot.  They made a hunt in the early morning and got a few doves and planned to hunt again in the late afternoon, those being the times of day when the doves could be found around the water tanks. 

The two boys wanted to go hunting by themselves in mid-afternoon when it was really too hot and their dad knew the hunting would be poor.  He had never allowed the boys to hunt alone before but after extended begging he allowed them to go.

The dad had to go into town so he left his ranch foremen in charge and left.  Soon after the boys went out, the foreman heard them shooting and was surprised they saw any doves to shoot at.  When they came in later he asked about how many doves they had killed and they told him none.  He asked what they were shooting at and they told him they had killed two field-larks and one crow.  When he asked where the birds were the boys told him they left them in the field.  He told them to go out there and retrieve the birds and meet him out back and they would clean them.

Later when dad returned from town he had a big bag of cheeseburgers for their supper before they went out hunting again.  The foreman told him, “You and I will enjoy those burgers but the boys have already eaten”. 

So not only had he made the boys retrieve the kill and clean it, but he had helped them cook the two larks and the crow and made them eat them for their supper.  He told them, “We always eat what we kill.  Remember that”.  I bet they never forgot!

 

We had fried chicken every now and then at Sugar Hill but never often enough to suit me.  A tough old rooster or hen was usually consigned to a large pot of dumplings, a pan of dressing or a chicken pie.  I loved all of them and was ready to eat my fill whenever possible.

A squirrel and birds too were sometimes used to make dumplings instead of a chicken and I liked them equally well.  We never had deer because there were none out near our farm.   A few were killed in the river bottoms but I was a grown man before I saw a deer or tasted my first venison.

We usually killed a hog or two each winter and Mama managed to spread the use of the pork out as much as she could but there was just not enough of it.  We never butchered calves so except for the pork the only meat in out diet was the fish and game we were able to take.  There was sport in the taking of game and we enjoyed that, but the real motivation was to put meat on the table.

A favorite of mine was ‘Red Eye Gravy’.  This gravy is made as follows: Fry slices of cured ham in lard.  Pour off most of the hot lard, then add water (some people used coffee).  Scrape the residue from the fried ham loose from the skillet and stir it into solution in the liquid.  The lower layer of gravy will be very dark in color. It has a wonderful flavor.  We always carefully dipped the gravy out while leaving the floating lard behind

 

We ate such game as:

Squirrels

Rabbits

Opossums

Raccoons

Birds of any kind except Buzzards

Quail were favored but we probably ate more Blackbirds than any other kind.

Turtles

Most people seem to think the only edible turtles are certain soft-shell types but I can tell you from experience that is not so.  Maybe it is easier to remove the shell and get at the meat of a soft-shell turtle, but the quality of the meat is no different.  My favorite way to prepare turtle is to cut the meat in small bite-sized chunks then salt, pepper, flour and fry.  The last I had was one that I fixed for the boys on the Colorado River back in the ‘70’s

Frogs

Most of the meat of a frog is on its hind legs but the rest of the frog can also be eaten and I cleaned the whole carcass many times.

Fish

Any variety but mainly sun perch and catfish.  We didn’t cull many fish because of type or size.  We ate many very small sun perch.  The small ones, fried crisp, can be eaten whole and in my opinion no fish has a better flavor.

Most everything else in our diet was produced on the farm.  We grew the following things:

Corn

Potatoes

We had only the “Irish” potato that is the thin skinned red potato.  The White potato and the Russet potato were foreign to us.

 Tomatoes

I have no idea what varieties we grew, but I was grown before I saw a “Cherry” tomato.

Watermelons

Two principal varieties were grown.  They were the “Watson”, a long dark green melon and the “Black Diamond” a round green and white striped melon.  Both grew to a large size.

Cantaloupes

Onions

Two principle varieties were grown.  One was a green multiplying onion and the other was a white flat onion that grew to the size of a saucer but was only about 1 1/2 inches thick.  This was a mild sweet onion known as the “Bermuda” Onion.

Squash

A round, white, flat variety with scalloped edges was the kind that we grew. I had never seen a yellow crooked-neck or a zucchini squash.

The Cashaw, which is a large winter squash. The flesh of the ripe (mature) cashaw was cut from the rind, usually diced and I think boiled until tender and then candied like sweet potatoes.  This is a wonderful dish and one that I prefer over sweet potatoes.

Cucumbers

Beets

Turnips

Collards

Mustard

Lettuce

Cabbage

Sweet Potatoes

Peanuts

English Peas (green peas)

Butter Beans

Pinto Beans

Green Snap Beans

Field Peas

Blackeyed Peas

This was the most commonly grown pea in our area.  The “Purple Hull Pea” did not appear, where we were, until I was almost grown.

Crowder Peas

These were commonly called “Speckled Peas” or “Cow Peas” and  they were my favorite of all the peas (they still are).

Cream Peas

 These peas were named for their appearance.  They are a very light- green color and have a mild flavor.  O.K. for a change now and then but they are a little short on flavor for my taste.

Okra

Pecans

Sorghum

We chewed pieces of this for the sweet tangy taste of the juice.  Sometimes used to produce syrup (I love the tangy taste of sorghum syrup).

Sugarcane

We didn’t grow cane in my memory but others did and we usually got a few stalks for chewing and usually managed to get a gallon or two of the cane syrup to go with our biscuits.  A favorite of mine was to soak a hot biscuit with Red Eye gravy before pouring the ‘Ribbon Cane’ syrup over it.

Eggplant

I was a teenager when I first saw an eggplant and we first grew them in our garden.

 

Things we didn’t grow but obtained from others:

 

Peaches (after our orchard died out).

Pears

Figs

Black Walnuts

 

Things we gathered from the wild:

 

Chinquapins

A wild variety of chestnut native to Eastern Texas

Hickory Nuts

Poke Salit

This is a wild weed that is poisonous. The poison must be removed by parboiling, draining the liquid and rinsing before completing cooking and serving.

Dewberries

Blackberries

Huckleberries

Mulberries

Persimmons

Grapes

            Muscadines

            ‘Possum

            Mustang

Plums

 

Things we had on special occasions, usually only at Christmas time:

Brazil Nuts

Almonds

English Walnuts

Apples

Oranges

Bananas

 

Things we did not grow or get from our neighbors:

 

Squash of the yellow crooked-neck and the Zuchinni varieties.

Garlic

Kidney Beans

Strawberries until I was about 12 or 14 years of age. 

 

Foods not on our menu:

Garlic

Celery

Olives

Broccoli

Asparagus

Oysters

The first I ever ate were brought and cooked by my brother-in-law Mournice Jones when I was about 15.

Shrimp

Tuna (until I was in high school)

Pizza

I was about 22 when I ate my first.

Mexican food

The first I ever had was from Monterey House on Southmore at Preston in Pasadena after I went to work for Shell.  I was about 30 years old.  At that time Monterey House was on the Northeast corner of the intersection.  They had a kitchen with take-out only in a building they shared with a laundry/dry cleaner.  A regular dinner cost $0.70 and consisted of, a tamale, a beef enchilada, a cheese enchilada, rice and beans.  This was topped with a generous amount of cheese, chili and chopped onion.

My fellow workers at Shell would get together and order dinners for our lunch.  A $5.00 order was delivered free so we had to order at least eight dinners for free delivery.

I enjoyed the dinners so much that I began to buy takeout for all of us at home.  I would buy a dozen enchiladas, a dozen tamales, a quart of beans, a quart of rice and a pint of chili for less than $3.00.  A bag of tortilla chips and a cup of salsa came with this purchase.

           

I may be wrong but I can’t remember us ever having spaghetti when I was growing up.  Macaroni and cheese (rarely if ever) maybe, but spaghetti no.

           

 

“The Nazis”

 

World War Two began when I was nine years old. It was very real to me with two brothers and two brothers-in-law in the Armed Forces. They were my brothers James and Ray and my brothers-in-law Milton Roberts and Mournice Jones.  Two others who became by brothers-in-law after the war were also in service.  They were Edward Austin and Paul Byerly.

I was an avid follower of the war news.  My brother Lloyd gave Mama a subscription to the “Dallas Morning News” and she loved that paper.  We all did and I read part of it every day.  The paper had maps on the front page, I believe daily, showing the battle lines with the territory highlighted that was held by the Allies (The United States, Great Britain, China, Canada, France, Australia, and Russia).  It was always interesting to see what progress had been made.  The paper also had arrows on the maps to show the thrust of attacks against enemy lines.

There was a lot in the news about Adolph Hitler and his Nazi regime. After we moved to Henderson and I went to the movies frequently there was always a newsreel shown before the movie.  The newsreel was a brief update of the news of the world.  I remember seeing Hitler making speeches before thousands of his people.  We knew he was largely responsible for the world being at war so he and his Nazi party were very much disliked.  And, too, some of our family and friends had been taken prisoner or killed in the war with Germany.    That reinforced our feelings against the Nazis.

In 1945 my sister Monnie Bess and her husband Mournice came home for a visit.  Mournice was stationed at the Army’s Camp Claiborne near Alexandria, Louisiana and they lived in Oakdale, Louisiana.  When they went home Mama and I went with them.

Several things stand out in my memory of that time.  One, that was my first ever knowledge of the cockroach.  I’d never heard of them before because we didn’t have them at home.  Maybe other people had them but we didn’t.  Maybe we were just too poor for them to bother with us.  I don’t know.  But, around Oakdale they were bad.  I don’t remember if Monnie Bess and Mournice had them, but I saw a crude sign along the road “Cockroaches for Sale”.  I guess some poor settler had more of them than he could stand - which isn’t hard to do.

The big thing that I remember was the day that Mournice took me to work with him at the Army camp.  As I sat down to write this story on July 7, 1998; I called Mournice to see what he remembered of that time.  His memory is pretty dim as mine is, but we shared our thoughts.  Then I called Monnie Bess and talked with her.  What follows is a pretty good stab at how it was.

Mournice was a cook at the Officer’s Mess at the camp.  Now most people would not have considered taking a 15 year-old boy onto an Army base like that, but Mournice did it.  I was a little apprehensive about going with him, but it went well.  I will never forget that day.  I got a first-hand, up-close look at some real Nazis and I didn’t like them any better after the experience.

Entering the base is a blank to me now.  I wonder how Mournice was able to get me past the guardhouse but he did, and we went on in to the Officer’s Mess.

The Officer’s Mess was a large stand-alone building.  One end of it housed the kitchen and the other the dining area.  There were only two cooks, Mournice and another guy, and they mainly supervised the work that was done by 10 or 12 German prisoners-of-war.

The first thing I remember that morning is going into a room where some of the prisoners were about to prepare potatoes for cooking.  There was a machine in the room that I will try to describe.  It was an open tub perhaps four feet in diameter and about a foot deep.  The inner walls of the tub were lined with an abrasive surface.  The potatoes were dumped into the tub and a motor started which spun the tub.  The potatoes tumbled around and around inside the tub and the abrasive surface ground the outer peel from the potatoes.  The Germans then removed the potatoes and I believe cleaned the eyes and, any skin remaining, from the potatoes, with ??.  In thinking about this now, I can’t remember, but I believe they used knives to do that.  Seems that would have been a little dangerous but I suppose not.  If the Germans got out of the mess hall where would they go?  It would have been hard to escape the camp.

The Germans I met there in the room that morning were, seemingly, friendly enough.  They were sitting around the tub and laughing and talking among themselves.  There was one prisoner older than the others were.  Mournice called him “Cookie”.  He was given that name because he did much of their baking and because of his weakness for cookies.  Cookie kept some cookies in his pocket when he could get them.

Cookie, seems to me, must have been about forty.  He was short, had a pleasant face and smiled a lot.  He looked like an office clerk instead of a soldier.  My guess is that he was a reluctant soldier and was very likely not a Nazi.  He went about his work with a cheerful and willing attitude.

It became clear to me pretty quickly that the Germans were not all the same.  There was one prisoner who was very belligerent.  He was not the typical German in appearance - (is there such a thing?).  That is, he was neither blond nor blue-eyed.  Instead he had dark hair and eyes.   He was wild and reckless looking.  He stared at me and I could feel his hate.  The other Germans seemed to be very wary of him and I wonder now if he was the only true Nazi there.  It appeared he didn’t like the other Germans going docilely about the work.

Sometime during the day, Mournice took a couple of the prisoners out on a detail of some kind.  I don’t remember what it was, but I went with them.  The Germans were on the lookout for cigarette and/or cigar butts and picked up everyone they saw.  I learned they added the tobacco to their supply.  The prisoners were credited with an allowance for each day they worked.  If I recall correctly it was less than $1.00 per day.  From these funds they could buy necessities and I believe tobacco, as I remember, “Bull Durham” was all they could get and they had to roll their own cigarettes.  Of course, then, many men did roll their own all the time.  They called ready-made cigarettes “Tailor Made” cigarettes and I saw few people smoke them before the war.  Mainly I suppose because of the expense.

The cigar butts the prisoners were able to scavenge were thrown into a bucket of water in the boiler room.  This room was at the rear of the mess hall.  They let them soak in the water until they could separate the tobacco leaves.  The leaves were then re-rolled into a new cigar and left on top of the (insulated) boiler to dry out some before it was smoked.  Luckily I missed out on actually being present when one of these “stogies” was fired up.

My day at Camp Claiborne was an exciting one that I told all my friends about.  Most didn’t believe that I really got to go onto an Army base and visit with German prisoners-of-war up close, but I did.

Mournice had an old car that was long past its better days.  He thinks it was a ‘39 Ford sedan.  The only thing I remember about it was the terrible howling noise that came from the differential.  It was the worst noise I ever heard coming from the rear-end of a car.  It was bad and Mournice was some worried about it but that was the only car he had and no money for another so he was stuck with it.

After our stay in Oakdale, Mournice drove Mama, Monnie Bess, Linda (then about 9 mos. old) and me to Lufkin, Texas.  When we drove into Lukin the streets were filled with people.  Car horns were blowing, some people were laughing and yelling and others were crying.  We were amazed and wondered what in the world was going on.  We stopped and Mournice asked someone and they said, “The war is over”.  We joined in there elation.  It was an exciting time for us.

In looking back at the calendar I gather that must have been on August 14, 1945.  The United States dropped an atomic bomb on, Hiroshima, Japan on August 6th.  On August 8 the Russians entered the war against the Japanese.  On August 9, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. The following day the Japanese opened surrender negotiations and then on August 14, 1945 they announced their unconditional surrender.  We learned of it when we entered Lufkin that afternoon.  I expect we had not heard the news in the week or two we stayed with Monnie Bess and Mournice likely didn’t know about the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan.

We spent the night near Lufkin with Mournice’s parents and then went on home the next day.

My position on the use of the atomic bomb against Japan is that it was a necessary thing to do.  It was a horrendous thing, but it was not done as punishment or revenge or out of cruelty.  Japan refused an offer of a “just peace” by the Allies if the Japanese would surrender.  There were about 15,000,000 people killed in the war and another 25,000,000 injured.  Had the war continued with an invasion of Japan by the Allies those numbers would have greatly increased.  With a conquered Japan divided and finally occupied in part by the Russians it is highly unlikely there would have been the rapid recovery of the Japanese society that actually occurred.  You reap what you sow and Japan had sown some bitter seed in their unprovoked attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor, and more in their inhumane treatment of prisoners-of-war and the people living under occupation of their armies.  It is very sad the harvest was rained upon the heads of their innocent populace.  But that is what happens in war.

 

“The Watch”

 

            When James Alonzo Woods was about eighteen years old (about 1876) he got a job working as a Swamper on a freight wagon for a Drummer (general merchandize salesman). They were traveling over the central/western part of Texas and were in an unnamed town. They stopped the wagon in front of the General store and the Drummer went in, leaving James on the wagon.  While he was there waiting, a drunk came out of the saloon next door and offered to sell his gold watch to James for five dollars.  That was a considerable amount of money in those days, but James thought the watch was worth more and bought it.

 

When the Drummer came back Grandpa showed the watch to him.  They went into the store and showed it to the store-keeper who wiped it clean (it was dirty and greasy) and told James he ought to leave town before the drunk sobered up, because the watch was worth considerably more than five dollars.

When I was a little boy, I would sit in Grandpa's lap and he would hold the watch to my ear and I would listen to it ticking.  Its shiny gold color and the ticking sound fascinated me.  Grandpa would tell me that one day the watch would be mine.  When he died in 1948, in his last words to those present he said to take his watch to me, and they did.

I still have the watch.  It is an Elgin watch and is not solid gold, but gold plate.  In places the gold is worn off down to the base metal and the face is worn so much the lens will not stay in, but it still runs and keeps good time.  Inside the back of the case, 1873 is marked in the metal.  The watch is unusual in that the winding stem is at 3:00 in stead of the usual 12:00.

 


 

                                     “Bath Time”

 

When I was a boy bath time came about once a week, whether you needed it or not.  Now I know that sounds strange to you who are living in this time of unlimited hot and cold running water at the flick of a wrist.  Many people now shower before bedtime and again on arising in the morning and that is wonderful, but an utter waste of water.

At our house bathing was never easy.  There were many problems encountered in preparing for a bath.  The major ones being, where would you take it? There was no ‘bathroom’!  The house was always crowded with people at the time one was likely to take a bath.  There was no bathtub, so what container would be used for the purpose?  Who would carry the water and the wood?

If a hot bath was to be had then there was the problem of heating the water.  The teakettle held about two quarts of water.  A kettle of boiling water when added to about twice that much more water would bring it to a nice warm temperature (providing the extra water was not freezing cold).  With three kettles of water you had one and one-half gallons of bath water—about enough for a birdbath. A birdbath is usually what many people had in between those rare tub baths.

In warm weather the men usually went out after dark to the pond or spring and had a bath.  That was the easy way.  To have a bath in the house required bringing in a washtub and then carrying enough water in buckets from our nearest source, which was 150 yards from the house.

The #3 washtub that we commonly used around our house was about 30” in diameter and 12” deep.  If I remember my algebra, then it would hold about 36 gallons of water.  To fill it half full would require about 4 trips to the pipe at the little pond across the road.  That was one hundred and fifty yards each way carrying two 12-quart buckets with about 9 quarts of water in each, each trip.

To bring that amount of water, 18 gallons, to a nice warm temperature would require heating about 8 kettles of water on the stove.  Heating that much water, in real cold weather was not such a waste because we had the stove going to warm the room anyway. But when it wasn’t very cold you didn’t want to waste a lot of wood heating the house as well as the water when you didn’t really need to do so.

What was the solution?  Why use less water in the first place!  Instead of filling the tub half full, fill it only a quarter full.  That required carrying less water and it required heating less water with its consequential use of wood in the stove.  And that is what we usually did. 

We would place the tub on the floor in the kitchen near the stove.  Put about 8 gallons of cold water in it and then put 2 or 3 kettles of boiling water in to warm it up for a total of about 10 gallons.

The tub was just barely large enough that one could sit down in it by drawing the knees up under the chin.  It was impossible to get into a comfortable position for a pleasurable bath.  But having never known anything better we thought it was fine.

Now we didn’t prepare a bath for each individual.  That would have been grossly wasteful of wood, water and labor.  We shared the bath water.  The cleanest of us bathed first and then we progressed to the dirtiest.  We all know the dirtiest one at our house was a grimy little boy....so I was last!

By the time I got into the tub, the water had taken on a gray color and usually had some floating scum from the soap and body oils of those before me.  It had lost most of its warmth too, but I didn’t mind any of that.  I would have been happy to just skip it all but Mama always insisted that I have a bath, even though I didn’t think I really needed one.

So the bottom line was that 6 or 8 or more of us had a bath in about 10 gallons of tepid and not so clean water.  And saying that was a great improvement over our normal condition is telling you just how dirty we usually were.

Why don’t you do a little test?  Measure about 10 gallons of water into your bathtub and put only enough hot water in to make it just warm. Now see how much you enjoy your bath and you will appreciate maybe a little of how it was then.  And if there are two of you, have the second person take a look at how it would be to bathe in the once used bath water.

How much of this story is true?  I don’t really know about all of us sharing the bath water.  I do recall occasions, when I bathed in some pretty dismal looking bath water that had been used by someone before me.  How many others had used it? I don’t really know but I am sure that we shared the bath water among at least two or three people if not more most of the time.  The rest of the story about the tub and the quantity of water is accurate.

Do you ever get in the shower and just stand there under the hot spray and enjoy the feeling of it?  Isn’t it wonderful to be able to do that?  And as often as you want, too.  And with almost no effort beyond turning the faucet handles.  That is a real luxury that we didn’t have in the old days and that most of the world’s population doesn’t have now.  I’m not sure that we appreciate just how wonderful a long hot bath really is. Be thankful as you enjoy your bath today!

 

“Be True to One’s Self”

 

No matter what we do in life, as long as it is honorable, the key is to do it well.  If you are a farmer, be a good one.  If a lawyer, uphold the law, a salesman, be truthful and fair.  If a carpenter, build straight and true, or a doctor be tender and caring.

We must always be true, first to ourselves and then to our fellow man.  The following poem, I think, captures the essence of one’s responsibility to self.

 

“The Man in the Glass”

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,

And the world makes you king for a day,

Just go to the mirror and look at yourself,

And see what THAT man has to say.

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife,

Whose judgement upon you must pass.

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the one staring back from the glass.

Some people might think you’re a straight-shootin’ chum

And call you a wonderful guy,

But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum,

If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest,

For he’s with you clear up to the end.

And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test

If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years,

And get pats on the back as you pass.

But your final reward will be heartaches and tears

`If you’ve cheated the man in the glass!

Author unknown

==================================================****

Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there, I do not sleep

I am a thousand winds that blow

I am the diamond glints on the snow

I am the sunlight on ripened grain

I am the gentle autumns rain

When you wake in the mornings’ hush

I am the swiftly uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight

I am the soft stars that shine at night

Do not stand at my grave and cry

I am not there I did not die.

 

Author Unknown

 

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