One Foot

One Foot

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Ham Loaf Brings Out Memories - and Mom's Recipe Box

Each year as the holidays approach, my mind seems to call up memories of my mother and the foods that she created in her kitchen.  Sometimes these are emotional if I’m feeling sort of bluesy, but not this year – this one is just recalling some of the more amusing aspects of her cooking.  My mother wasn’t even a great cook.  She didn’t have to be, as my father wouldn’t have eaten anything that wasn’t flat, fried or greasy.   Nevertheless, she tried, and God knows she worked hard at it. Farm kitchens can be basic, get-it-on-the-table sort of things and usually that works for everyone in the family.

This “Mom’s kitchen” association came from a conversation I was having with a friend regarding the upcoming brunch I host each year for my quilting group.  This is our annual party, hosted by the one who has enough room to host each year (that being me).  The hostess is responsible for the main entrée and the girls all bring sides to accompany and the deserts.  I am always puzzled by what to fix, as I want the dish to be really tasty, yet not be so large that I wind up with leftovers for a week after the event.  My friend suggested I serve ham loaves, a favorite of his family and community for decades.  It came to me that ham loaves were also a favorite of my mother - a possibility worth investigating.    
       I remember tasting “ham loaf” at Mom’s years ago and I wasn’t impressed.  As I look at the recipes for the dish, however, I understand why there could have been some variance.  First, the “loaf” is a mix of either half ham, half ground pork, or a mix of thirds – ham, beef, and pork.  The farm kitchen may have the ground pork – we butchered yearly.  But ham was an expensive item.  It would need to be purchased (conclusion: buy as little as possible).   Second, the packages of both ground pork and beef as butchered for us could be an average pound, but more likely, a package could be 1.3 pound.  Knowing my mother, she would simply have mixed the meats as they came packaged – still another variance.  The measurement of the ingredients was about as “loosey-goosey” as the meat, so given all that, I’ll bet each loaf was an adventure.
Mom (on left) and Neighbor Share at Sale

The ham loaf was not a dish prepared for the family. It was a main dish prepared for the community served.  Mom was a member of the church, the Council of Churches, and the Council of Clubs.  Each of those served the meals for community farm auctions, church meals, fall festivals, winter carnivals, high school fund raisers, etc.  Consequently, the recipes found in the “Mom’s recipes” box served many.  I believe the practice was for each lady to prepare a dish for about 12-15 individuals, bring it to the community building or auction site, then the dishes were combined and sold.  

I decided to try the ham loaf.  My friend knew a butcher shop in his local community that sold the beloved ham loaf already mixed.  “That’s a blessing,” I thought as he offered to pick it up when he went home for Thanksgiving.  We plan a trial run this week, just to be sure, but I bet it comes out well.  At least I know it will please him, so my friends will also benefit.

Seeing the old recipe leads to a fuller memory -   The best part is remembering how the ladies of the community came together, serving hundreds of people to raise money or serve and support the cause.  Women who lived on farms went out every morning to feed livestock, fed their families, and operated a farm but still had the time to cook their portion of food (donated of course) and bring it in to the kitchen.  They then spent an entire day heating the food, serving plates to the customers, laughing with their friends and neighbors, cleaning up the huge kitchen and going home in time to feed the animals again.  They also brought their children with them, wrapped an apron around their waists and taught them the social skills of service as they brought  plates to the customers, cleaned tables, and helped with the clean-up and disposal of plates.
  If you think this is a story of “good old days,” it is not.  Community meals continue in my church, neighborhood associations, and for sure in my farm community.  Sometimes people ask me about my sense of “place.” It is in my community – my city community and my church, as well as my farm community and home town.  It is where we know about meat butchered from the farm, participation in community causes, and the joy and work of that goes into making a real community.  It is about making home-made pies to sell at the raffle; about cakes for the cakewalk, and for sure about ham loafs at the auction of our best friend and neighbor who is selling his farm.

          I think this week’s trial run to prepare ham loaf will be much fun.  I plan to tell my friend all about my mother and how she used to make it – with a great deal of license on the recipe.  We’ll make a dish, pour some wine and maybe have a side dressing of salad. 

          Come on by – care for some ham loaf?  Dang, I think I may be getting ever so slightly bluesy.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Rub Is, You don't Always Know Who

Several years ago, there was a series of greeting cards that used the message “What I know I learned from…..”  Each card gave a learning source – from my cat, my dog, my grandmother, the movies, etc. but my favorite has always been, “What I know I learned in kindergarten.”  There was also a book by Robert Fulghum with that same theme.

The knowledge gained from kindergarten certainly applies to adults.  Good examples of this are these wise rules,  “Don’t hit people…..Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone…..take a nap every afternoon.” 

The most important advice for me was, “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”  If only we could live our lives by that guideline.  I recall my early teaching days with five-year-olds new to school, and so unsure of their own safety.  With wide eyes, they held hands every time they left the classroom, and it proved to be a great comfort to them.

I envision that same guideline in use as we travel throughout our lives.  The events of our lives flow as a river in which we must survive the current.  When the force is minimal, the water is at our ankles and we move with strength. But when there is chaos or storm, the water rises to our knees or higher and can knock us off our feet.  That is when we need to all hold hands and stick together. If several of us join hands and steady each other, we can maintain our balance and the force is survivable.

Sometimes the frantic pace of life makes us believe we are fortunate if we can just keep our own heads above water, but we must remember how important it is to help others.  At this time of year, we send our graduating children and grandchildren off to summer jobs and college.  They may look brave, but they need to see our extended hands and know we plan to be there for them. The same extended hand needs to be offered to any who are embarking on a new adventure in life or facing times of trouble.

Trials are not just for the young.  We face them daily and throughout life.  

A particular line from Fulghum’s book reminds us that “You may never have proof of your importance but you are more important than you think.  There are always those who couldn’t do without you.  The rub is that you don’t always know who.”

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fear of the Poor Farm and Other Misinformed Memories

When I was a child, a trip to the county seat to conduct business was a big event.  We lived on a farm and were largely self-sustaining; purchases of store-bought foods were a delight. Since such trips were rare, most were clearly memorable, or so I thought.

            On one such trip when I may have been about five-years-old, my mother took a gift to a relative living at the “County Poor House.”  It was a cold and bitter day, yet for some reason we did not go inside the two story, badly worn building. A man came to the doorway to accept her offering and I became quite frightened, as he had a strange look on his face and seemed physically ill. He was clad only in overalls, his chest and shoulders bare.

            It was that visit that began my fear of the poor farm.  It was years before I learned enough to know of the state poor laws, how indigent people were dealt with or financed, or how people came to be in need of such care.  Now I know of the hardships of the great depression and how people lost their jobs and property.  I know of the dust bowl, and economic downturns in the area and how the passing of the Social Security Act became a blessing to the old, ill and mentally ill. With age not only comes knowledge, but also compassion.

            That relative has been lost in a jumble of misremembered information, but in my family genealogy research, I documented a relative that did actually live and die at the poor farm and that led me to try to link the memory with fact.  I could not. The poor farm was torn down before I was even born. That memory may have been a visit to a care home or a private residence.  Now when I recall the threat of my mother that my extravagant requests would “send us to the county poor farm,” I can laugh. Now I realize we wouldn’t have had far to go.

            The obituary of the relative who actually did reside at the poor farm is a sad story.  Family lore describes an alcoholic who never married and whose illness led him further away from family as he aged.  He died at the age of 75 and 7 months, leaving two sisters.  He was buried at the County Poor Farm Cemetery and ”No relatives were here for the funeral.” 

            Eventually a nice stone was erected at the site of the poor farm and cemetery; for all were buried without stones to mark their graves.  There are 104 names on the monument.  Records indicate the first died in 1892, the last in 1940.  A report by the Ark City Traveler (July 27, 2002) indicates the majority died between 1930 – 1939 during the Great Depression.  My family member died in 1931.  Was it alcoholism that killed him, or the poverty of the depression?  Perhaps it was just old age.

            A friend and I talked about our plans for grave markers recently and we jointly agreed that regardless of the method of our bodily disposal, we wanted to have a marker for our families to find and reflect upon.  It has to do with that sense of place that is needed to ground a person who must deal with death.  Hopefully, there are hundreds of loving memories to draw on and our services well attended.  Scatter my ashes over the wheat fields if you want, but leave a marker to reflect on.

            All this family history research can bring about serious thoughts, and I am so sorry that a family member died in such a plight, but I have a list of hundreds of others who lived long, happy and productive lives. Their obituaries reflect that they were important people to someone and loved as a result. 

 I do not dwell on sadness, as I believe lives are to be lived with joy. I do think about being of importance though, so again I recall that wonderful old prayer that is always good to wake to:

                        “Lord, let me be a blessing to someone today.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How Things Were Created

God and his angels were in the middle of creation and working out the final design details of the various earth occupants. 

                “Did you want hallow bones on all animals, God?” asked one of the angel draftsmen.  “Or did you want them on just the birds?”

                “Just the birds, please,” answered God.

                A bit skeptical, the angel asked, “Won’t they blow around? You already created wind you know.”

                “They’ll be fine,” answered God.  “We’ll call that soaring.”

                The angels nodded and went on to the next questions.  “What to do about that bland bunch of butterflies you created – were you going to fix them?”

                “No, no.” God responded.  “I like the differences and we’ll make them a whole different group.  We’ll call them moths.”

                And so the day went.  As they entered the final details onto the drawings, one angel looked up puzzled.  He seemed to think about his question for a minute, as though he simply might have forgotten the answer. Finally, he raised his hand and asked,” I’m sure you must have told me, God, but just how long does it take to grow a lip?”

                I’m sure that must have been how it went.  As someone once said, “It’s all in the details, you know.”  There must have been some very fine last minute details going on when we were created and some of it is a mystery to us, but I do know the answer to the lip question.

                Here is how I found out.  You see, I volunteer with a state organization to preserve one of our natural resources – the prairie.  They round up the Kansas City Symphony, send out a bunch of invites and everyone shows up in a huge cow pasture to hear them play.  Not only are 6,000 people loony enough to go, but another 400 of us show up to herd them around.

                The day was about 85 degrees or so and a very strong wind was coming out of the southwest.  I was assigned to the trailer taxi to get folks from point A to B.  Our hats wouldn’t stay on, but we slathered on the sunscreen and did our best for about seven hours.  I watched the symphony for awhile and went home exhausted.

                The next morning I woke up feeling a little sand blasted, and went in to brush the teeth, etc. and caught my image in the mirror.  My face and arms were a bit pinkish, but not burned, however,  my bottom lip was swollen badly and one would have suspected a botox injection gone bad.  Not only did they not form a “sexy and sensual” pout, it was pretty clear they were going to in a painful state quickly.

                Of course, I slathered and dabbed on every medicinal crème I could think of, but the lip tissue did what it was designed to do.  It puffed up in full blister by day one.  Each day was a repeat and the entire lip sloughed off as new tissue was formed and old wounded tissue discarded.  Drinking was done with a straw and burn crème was on it at all times. 

                Each day brought more healing, and new tender lip tissue replaced it, until finally I had only one last spot where the damage was the worst.  That took an additional two days.

                So, what was God’s answer to the angel that asked, “How long does it take to grow a new lip?”

                The answer was “eight days.  Ten if needed.”

                On about day six, I faced the healing process with awe of our Creator.  This was not the first time I had been aware of the most miraculous way humans and creatures are put together.  Our bodies can be wounded or ill, sometimes devastated, and yet there is a healing process built in.  How can anyone who has ever experienced this ever doubt the existence of the Creator? 

                Is there not an intimacy we feel with God when we heal?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Giving Thanks For Gardens

        For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; …..Wherefore I saw that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him back to see what shall be after him?   Ecclesiastes 3

                I have always remembered this scripture as it seems to sum up the circle of life as we live and die on this earth.  Of course I have only used the small section I needed for this writing; a section that directly refers to my life these last few months.

Johnson grass invasion

  During the past year, I have rebuilt my farm house that was lost four years ago to fire and this provided a shelter while my sister and I restored our mother’s garden.  We spent weeks fighting the invasives that had infiltrated the entire area – garden beds, pathways and raised beds were filled with Johnson grass and tree seedlings.  With spade and reinforced garden gloves we dug the beds, removed the roots and prepared for planting anew and restoring the old.  As days changed to weeks and Johnson grass returned, I grimaced and told myself that everything has it’s season, but the season was ending for trash grass.

End of first summer
    The summer has passed quickly, and the digging has left little time for writing and enjoying.  We have continued to fight new sprouts while we laughed and talked the hours away, digging and digging.  As fall has closed in, we recognized we might not complete all the beds, but wisely we didn’t close the season on digging.  As my sister took her leave to visit her children this week, we took a few photos and proudly stood side by side, surveying our accomplishments.  We have cleared and prepared and planted, and it felt really good to know that we have given it a good beginning on growth before winter sets in.

Awaiting spring
     The scripture ending, “there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion” may be the secret to why we dedicated gardeners endure through such a difficult, seemingly impossible task as my sister and I have gone through summer.  It isn’t just pride in our work that drives us.  We could get that at the gym I suppose.  It is also that we are tending the growth that God provides on this earth.  It is a tending that was fulfilling to our mother, and now to us.  Gardens, after all, are the creative replacement of plants that God gave us, only more widely distributed.  We are just helping him out a little for ease of viewing. 
Me and Sis

          I will continue to putter in our garden this winter, and hopefully have more time to write. As we gather around our Thanksgiving table, though, I plan to mention that we are so very grateful for our sister-time, our health to apply to our garden, and the beautiful garden we know will be there come spring.