Tag Archives: memories

Kentucky Folks

Not a lot of people know it, but I was born in Kentucky and lived there for the first four years of my life. My father, who was very attached to his mother, took us to visit on school or government long weekends, and sometimes even regular weekends. Summer vacation invariably involved a trip to see Granny, Pete, and Willie; Uncle Sam and Aunt June and their kids, C.B. and Betty Sue; and Cousin Addie.

One object of all this travel and family bonding was to make sure we kids didn’t pick up “Northern” accents, which I did anyway through speech and debate classes and watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news. I could still pull out a Kentucky accent when needed, such as when trying to appall my sorority sisters in college.

I suppose I should start with Granny, Pete, and Willie, who lived in a small house in Lexington. Granny was my father’s mother, and Pete and Willie were dad’s siblings. Pete was actually named Edna Mae. As far as I know, the origins of the name Pete are lost in the mists of time, and no one ever called her Edna Mae unless they were mad at her.

She was, frankly, a homely woman with thick ankles, but we loved her dearly. She had a good heart and a sly sense of humor that seldom showed itself, except when we kids did something goofy, like when I go-go danced for Granny to “Winchester Cathedral.” Every year for Christmas she gave me and my sister identical presents, differing only in color. The gifts always included an Avon roll-on perfume and a box of stationery.

Granny’s house was wonderful. There was a magnolia tree and a peach tree in front, and a black walnut in back. There were touch-me-nots growing all along the front porch and we loved to pop the fuzzy little pods and scatter the seeds everywhere.

We kids had the run of the house and Granny would frequently open her coin purse and give us spare change so we could go down the street to the store to buy penny candy. Next door was a parking lot that connected to the back door of a laundromat. We would often take the shortcut to get to the Woolworth quicker for comic books and sundaes.

Granny had long, white hair – I doubt if she had ever cut it. I still remember her sitting in a chair, with her hair flowing down the back, and Pete brushing and braiding it for her, then wrapping it in a neat coil at the nape of her neck.

We kids loved the coal fire grates that heated the house for the longest time – they were replaced later with gas heaters, which weren’t nearly as much fun. Pete had one of those old popcorn poppers that was a rectangular basket with a sliding lid. We held it over the coal fire and shook it until it was full of popped corn, then emptied it into a bowl and start over.

Names are different in Kentucky. My dad, James Robert, was invariably known as Jim Bob. All names ending in A were pronounced “ie. I was surprised when I went on an ancestry site and found my grandmother listed there as Calla. We all knew her as Callie. There was also a Callie Jo in the family, who smoked cigarettes and had a questionable reputation. Naturally, I found her fascinating, as she was the only “bad girl” I had ever met up until that time.

When Pete died, I was chosen to represent the Ohio branch of the family as my father was bed-ridden with cancer at the time. When I returned, I described the funeral to him, including the car that followed the hearse and was filled with flowers. “A truck,” he insisted. I knew he was talking about what she deserved rather than my account of what actually happened. Apart from relatives, most of the people there were from the Greyhound Bus company, where she had worked all her life.

There’s lots more to tell about my other Kentucky relatives, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

Kiffles and Kugel, Facebook and Google

Dan was trying to remember the name of the holiday cookies he and his mother liked so much, but neither of them could recall it. “We used to have them at Uncle Rudy’s house,” Dan said. But no bells rang. Uncle Rudy was no longer available to provide any suggestions.

“What were they like?” I asked.

“They were rolled up and had walnuts in them.”

“Sounds a lot like rugelach,” I said. Strictly speaking, rugelach don’t have to be made with walnuts. They can have jam or other fillings inside. Along with hamentaschen, they’re a staple of Jewish baked goods. Dan had some Jewish relatives, so it seemed a good place to start the search.

“I think it began with a ‘k,'” he said.  “Maybe kugels?”

“No,” I said. “Kugel is a baked noodle dish. It’s not remotely like a cookie.”

So, as with most modern problems, we turned to Google. (At least it rhymes with kugel.) In fairly short order we found that the cookies in question were kiffles, and their origin was Hungarian. We found a recipe that sounded reasonably simple on Allrecipes.com.

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/235921/hungarian-kiffles/

I decided to check it out with a Hungarian friend to see if the recipe was authentic.  He said he didn’t remember them from childhood, but he added, “You had me at ‘a pound of butter.'” (Actually, they had me at “a pound of cream cheese.” The recipe made 36 cookies. It was clear that this was not a heart-healthy recipe, but what holiday baked goods are, really?)

Well, I suppose you can write the ending to this one. There is now half a batch of kiffle dough resting overnight in our fridge. Tomorrow we bake! And evaluate. And tweak if necessary for a second batch.

But the kiffle saga had me thinking. What other cookies or treats did people have in their childhood or from their heritage that they could no longer get or could barely remember? Naturally, this time I turned to Facebook. A quick post brought some interesting answers. And a lot of warm memories.

Jean remembered a cookie called Springerlies and thought they were Italian. “Mom’s friend made them. They were a real treat when we got them.”  Gwen replied that Springerlies are German, though most likely multicultural. “A friend spends days making them and other German cookies every year,” she said. “Awesome cookies!”

So here for you, Jean and Gwen, is a recipe:

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/9922/springerle-i/

Trish voted for Spritz cookies. “My mom used to make them, I think my Nana did too. I don’t have a recipe….” Well Trish, now you do! The recipe comes straight from Gold Medal Flour, so it ought to be authentic.

http://www.goldmedalflour.com/recipes/classic-spritz-cookies/ccd9d7f3-6075-4593-be61-7b0aeb02bc88

Lisa remembered, “My mom used to make these cookies called Spice of Life. They were a soft, dark molasses cookie, rolled in sugar. She’s lost the recipe, unfortunately, and I haven’t been able to recreate it.” Here you go, Lisa. This recipe actually appeared in a murder mystery by Diane Mott Davidson. It sounds fantastic! You had me at molasses and spices.

http://recipecircus.com/recipes/Stella/COOKIES/Spice-of-Life_Cookies.html

Jane’s favorite was date nut cookies.  They involved sweet dough, covered with dates and nuts, rolled like a jelly roll, sliced, and baked. “People are not into dates anymore, although about five years ago I saw the very same recipe in a magazine, and couldn’t believe it.” She also mentioned pizelles, very thin butter cookies, covered in powdered sugar. “They sell them in fancy shops, but you can make them pretty easily,” she added. They do require a special machine to make, which I’m guessing costs a packet at Williams Sonoma.

Melissa, whose background is Swiss-German, mentioned Mailänderli, Spitzbuebe, Basler Läckerli, and Züri Tirggel. “No one is ever going to make them like my grandmother did, and no place is ever going to be as comfortable as the chair in the tiny spot between the radiator and the kitchen table.” She’s been experimenting with recreating two of the cookies, but says she hasn’t got the texture quite right yet. Here’s a recipe for the Basler Läckerli:

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/basler-leckerli-566387f7424bb12207dbef07

Gwen also told about a holiday cake – makowiac, or poppyseed roll, with filling 1/2″ thick. She says she has her grandmom’s recipe, but that it’s labor intensive. (I looked at a recipe and is she ever right!) Gwen ordered one from a specialty bakery and is hoping it lives up to the legendary dessert of memory.

Peggy said that her mom didn’t make cookies, instead making fudge and peanut butter balls for teacher gifts. Robbin makes rum balls that can knock you on your ass.

Other friends fondly remembered treats that are not uncommon nowadays but don’t always live up to memories. Michael mentioned Toll House cookies – the chewy kind. (I’m with him on that.) And Wendy was fond of Scooter Pies – Moon Pies, readily available, just aren’t the same, she says.

It was fun hearing the stories and chasing down recipes. To all my friends I wish fond memories and a lovely, treat-filled holiday! You’ve made mine a little bit sweeter.

Memories for Sale

What cretin thought “Try a Little Tenderness” would be a good theme song for toilet paper?

What ad agency madman imagined that “Human” – a song about infidelity and confession and forgiveness – would be just peachy for an insurance company commercial featuring an air conditioner dropped on a car?

There are too many examples to list here: Quaker Oats “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”; Fiber One “Total Eclipse of the Heart”; Yoplait “All Day and All of the Night.”

I’ll tell you who thinks these up. Young people.

They count on their targeted demographic being too young to remember the songs as a part of their life, one that brings backs memories and feelings and events. High school. First love. First sex. Who cares if the lyrics don’t match the product? If a single word from the title remotely relates to the product, or the melody is pretty or energizing or attention-grabbing, that’s fine.

It was bad enough when all you had to fear was hearing The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” or “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” strangled with strings while you were riding an elevator or shopping for groceries. (Yes, that was me gagging in the elevator.) But now even the songs of the 80s are “oldies” and considered fair game. The pitches invade every home that has a TV or computer. Which means pretty much everyone except the Amish.

I know that past a certain date the songs are public domain and the writers/singers get no royalties. I know that even if the company does have to pay royalties, they are but the tiniest drop in the bucket labeled “marketing expenses.” I know that sex – the underlying content of most popular songs – sells.

But what they’re selling are my memories and yours. Try to pick your favorite from the days when you related strongly to a song. Then imagine that singer going door to door peddling something. Gordon Lightfoot selling encyclopedias. Janet Jackson selling make-up. Hootie and the Blowfish selling patio awnings. Pink selling food storage devices.

You can’t. For one thing, no one sells door-to-door anymore except those guys that sell questionable steaks. Many people order everything from underwear to financial advice over the Internet. But you get the idea.

Of course the youngsters’ uppance will come. Years from now they will hear Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj or Fall Out Boy being used to hawk hoverboards or maple bacon vodka or tampons. And they will cringe. Deservedly. And the ghosts of their elders will rub their wizened hands and cackle with glee.

Until that time, however, when faced with The Who’s “Who Are You?,” the only answer is, apparently, “I’m a shoe.”

 

C’mon. Share the outrage. What slices of your life have been trivialized by advertising? What memories have been reduced to background noise or crass commercialism? What songs would you like to take back from the hucksters and reclaim as the soundtrack to your life?

Discovering My Mother

I’m not a mother, and I don’t play one on TV.

But my mother was one (obviously), and with Mother’s Day fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about her.

MuzzPM

When I was a kid, my mother was a part of our loving, stable family. And at that time, that was all I needed to know. She was very much in my father’s shadow, as he was a larger-than-life, memorable character.

Here are some things I learned about her later.

She was an exceptional caregiver. My father had multiple myeloma for over a decade, and she was always there when he needed her.

She had needs too. She knew she was doing a good job taking care of my father, But she wanted someone else to tell her that, to validate her.

She was not a great cook. Except that to my dad, she was. He was a meat-and-potatoes guy and she gave him exactly what he liked, when he liked it, and how he liked it. Since then I’ve eaten a lot fancier, but I still say she made the best grilled cheese sandwich ever. With white bread and Velveeta.

She was lots of fun to travel with. I understand from other people that they would not even consider traveling with their mothers. We went to Brazil together, and Ireland, and many places around the U.S.

She tried new things. In Brazil she tried local food and drink. If she didn’t like it, she gave it to me or disposed of it, but at least she tried it first.

She was a devoted Christian, but not a bully about it. Once we were in a group and someone remarked that God was a woman. I cringed a little, but what she politely said was, “Oh? Why do you say that?” She told her church ladies that of course she would go to a synagogue or temple if asked. She explained, “How can I expect them to listen to me if I won’t listen to them?”

She was generous. She donated to the Humane Society and other charities. She gave away most of the things she crocheted, to friends or to church bazaars.

She thought globally, even without the Internet. She had pen pals around the world with whom she traded crochet patterns and family news. Sabita, her friend from India, came to visit and her whole family stayed at my mom’s house.

Most people called her sweet, especially when she was older. And she was, but that misses her complexity. She could be determined – even stubborn – and whimsical. She was down-to-earth and creative. She loved bass voices and yellow roses. She was sentimental and believed, at least a little, in ESP. She gave stale candy to trick-or-treaters she deemed “too old.” She never minded my father’s incessant flirting or that his nickname for her was “Old Squaw.”

And she was a better shot than my father.

When she couldn’t sleep at night, she would sing herself to sleep with hymns. Before she died, she made my husband Dan promise to sing “How Great Thou Art” at her funeral. And he did.

There are lots more stories I could tell. Why all my friends and I called her “Muzz.” How the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles cracked her up. How she would say, “Just a suggestion,” because she didn’t want to meddle in my marriage. Why she named me Janet. How she told our friend John that dying took too long.

I hate Mother’s Day and all the gooey cards and sales pitches for chocolate and diamonds. But I still love my mother, Ella Delena Rose Coburn, and will always miss her.

 

P.S. The picture of my mother was taken by dear friend and artist Peggy McCarty. I hope she doesn’t mind my using it.