Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Daddy moved back home a few weeks ago after staying with us for 20 months. He had been trying to get me to agree to let him stay by himself for several weeks. With much trepidation, I finally gave in.

We got about 2" of snow on Christmas Day. The roads were in pretty good shape so I headed down to Daddy's to take his gifts and his medication refills to him. Daddy lives on a dirt road and as soon as you turn off the paved road, you go down a steep hill. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get back up the hill in my car so I parked it at the "head of the lane" and walked the last 1/2 mile to his house.

Of course, I had my camera in hand. Like I had told Keith, if I have a wreck, I'm gonna get some good pictures of it. I snapped photos as I walked along -- weeds in the snow, the old barn, the gate, turkey tracks -- and thought about all the times I walked or rode my bike down that road in my childhood. As I neared Daddy's house, the fog began to lift from Wallen's Ridge. After I took some shots of it and turned to continue down the road, I remembered there was once a path worn through the yard where we would take a shortcut when walking from the barn. Even though it was covered with snow, I could still find the path.

As I walked through the yard, I could almost see my Papaw sitting on the porch in a straight-back chair, wearing overalls, and chewing King B Twist tobacco. I could imagine my Grandma inside the house in her rocking chair with a kitten on her lap. Mom would be cooking a big dinner like she used to do, waiting for me to arrive so she could hug me and give me a loud kiss on my cheek. She would make me warm my hands and feet at the Warm Morning stove that once stood in the living room.

I walked slowly because I knew none of them were there. Daddy was the only one waiting for me inside the house. Oh, how lonely he must be with no one to keep him company except for memories.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Miracle Cake

I haven’t made an Orange Slice Candy cake since before my mother-in-law passed away. We made one together many years ago and I just hadn’t felt like trying it again. I decided Amanda and I would make one this year. I found a recipe in a church cookbook that belonged to Mrs. Nichols. I assumed it was the same recipe we had used. I read through it several times and realized the instructions were somewhat lacking. It included the ingredients and the order to add them, but that was about all. I told Amanda it would be a miracle if we could figure out how to make it, but we’d give it a try anyway.

We got out mixing bowls, mixer, measuring cups and spoons, flour, sugar, eggs, butter, candy, nuts, coconut, and dates. We lined up everything on the countertop and got to work. We creamed and combined until we got to the part where we were supposed to add the baking soda to the buttermilk. I can “make” buttermilk by adding vinegar to regular milk, but . . . baking soda? I only use baking soda to deodorize the fridge. Who uses plain flour anymore? I keep some on hand for pie crusts but I use self-rising for everything else. I contemplated opening the ceramic penguin and removing a teaspoon of baking soda that had been absorbing refrigerator odors for the past month but decided the onion and garlic aroma might overpower the orange candy. I talked Keith into going to the store. While he was gone, I made another batch of fudge.

When he returned, Amanda and I got back to work on the cake batter. It was when I was ready to add the buttermilk mixture alternately with the flour mixture to the creamed mixture that I realized I had the latter two in the wrong bowls. I dug out another bowl and made the swap. Finally the batter was complete. Now all I had to do was add the candy, nuts, and fruit. After I got about half of it incorporated into the batter, I realized I was running out of room. It would be a miracle if the mixing bowl would hold everything.

After carefully stirring the last of the coconut into the batter, I was ready to place it into the Bundt pan. I could barely lift the bowl! I hefted the bowl underneath my arm and held it like a bagpipe. I told Amanda to turn the cake pan as I raked out the dense mixture. I said it would be a miracle if it ever got done all the way through. The instructions said to bake for 35-40 minutes.

An hour and a half later, a skewer inserted in the center came out clean. I took the cake from the oven and set it on a rack to cool. I later made the orange sauce, poked holes in the cake crust, and poured the sauce over the top. Some of it puddled in the center next to the tube. I doubted that it would ever soak into the cake. I set it in the refrigerator to “rest” overnight as instructed. It would be a miracle if this thing ever came out of the pan.

The next morning, I removed the pan from the refrigerator and, oddly enough, all the sauce had been absorbed into the cake. I ran a knife along the outer and inner edges of the cake then turned it upside down onto the plate. Nothing happened. I turned it back upright again and repeated with the knife, this time gently lifting up until I could see the cake begin to move. I inverted it onto the plate once more and this time I felt the pan lighten as the cake was loosed from its Bundt prison. How much of it had stuck? I was almost afraid to lift the pan to see. Success! I was amazed that very few crumbs had stuck to the pan. I covered the cake plate and headed off to work. It would be a miracle if the cake were edible.

I arrived home after work and couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. I lifted the cover, cut a piece of cake, and noticed how moist the orange sauce had made it. I took a bite and, to my surprise, it was not only edible – it was delicious. Miracles do happen!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Looking For a Rain Cloud

Every weekend that we can, Daddy and I like to get out and ride around. On this day, I decided to take his truck. We drove down to his house and then hit the highway. I stopped at a state park and took some pictures. He told me he wanted to not go home until he had seen a rain cloud. (He kept a written record of the weather for over 50 years so watching the sky is one of his favorite pastimes.) The sky was almost clear so we might be gone a while. After we reached the interstate and I got the truck up to speed, I heard something hitting against the cab of the truck. It was loud enough that Daddy heard it, too. I pulled onto the shoulder to see what in the bed might be blowing around in the wind. There was a mop handle lying sideways so I figured it was rattling around. I took it out and put it inside the cab of the truck. I pulled back onto the interstate.

It wasn't long before the same knocking sound started again. Daddy told me to pull over and see if it was the box (milk crate) hitting against the cab. I didn’t want to stop on the shoulder again because I hadn’t felt safe the previous time so I told him I would wait until we got to our exit. After we got off the interstate, we stopped and got lunch. I took the milk crate (which contained an empty Sprite can and a butter bowl) and his cane out of the bed of the truck and put them in the cab. We headed down the highway once again.

A few minutes later, the noise was back. I found a side road and pulled over. I took the only thing left – a case of Sprite – out of the bed and put it in the cab. Even though it is an extended cab, by now it is getting crowded inside the truck. I had to move the umbrella, afghan, atlas, camera bag, pocketbook, travel box (that’s a story in itself), emergency kit, water bottle, mop handle, milk crate, and quad cane in order to make room for the Sprite.

We hadn’t gone more than a mile down the road before the knocking started again. Now that we’ve eliminated everything from the bed of the truck, the noise must be coming either from under it or on the roof. I had looked underneath the truck earlier and didn’t see anything conspicuous. I listened carefully at the banging and realized it was indeed coming from the roof. “I know what it is!” I announced. Several days earlier, when I washed the truck, I had noticed the gasket around the windshield was loose. I told Daddy I bet the gasket had come off and was whacking the top of the truck. The thought occurred to me that we must look mighty silly going down the highway with that gasket flapping in the wind. I knew I couldn’t stand that noise the rest of the day. The gasket had to go. I would cut it off.

A few years ago, Daddy would have reached in his pocket and handed me a Case knife. Nowadays he doesn’t carry a knife or nail clippers or anything at all in his pockets. Although on a couple of occasions when I have been getting ready to do laundry, his guitar pick has fallen out of his pants pocket. I needed to find a knife soon because that noise was really getting on my nerves. A road sign told me there was a town about two miles ahead. Perhaps there would be a store there where I could buy a cheap knife. I took the exit toward town and saw a Wal*Mart sign. Perfect! I parked and started to get out. Daddy said I had better make sure it was the gasket that was the problem. I looked at the windshield and, sure enough, half the gasket was draped over the cab. I’m only 5’3” so in order to reach it, I had to stand inside the door and stretch across the windshield. The truck is not made in such a way that I can lean against the doorway and balance myself so I had to hold onto something with one hand. There was no way I could cut the gasket with a knife if I only had one hand free. What could I cut it with?

I wrestled my pocketbook from its cane/crate/camera bag prison and headed into Wal*Mart. I went to the housewares section and selected a pair of kitchen shears that stated they were “Heavy duty for a variety of uses.” I paid for the scissors and walked out the door.

In the foyer, a voice yelled, “You wanna buy sum’n’ from th’ boy scouts?” I looked around and saw a young boy lying on the bench and holding up a piece of paper. “No,” I told him. What I really wanted to say was, “Get off your sorry butt, act like you’ve got some sense, put a little effort into it, and I might consider buying something from you,” but I didn’t have time for a lesson in manners. I had to cut a gasket.

I got back to the truck and took the scissors from the bag. I looked at the clamshell packaging which I now realized I couldn’t open because . . . I didn’t have a knife! I burst out laughing at the insane irony of the situation. When Daddy found out why I was laughing, he suggested that I try bending the plastic back and forth until it broke. I know that works for wire but I didn’t think it would work on hard plastic but I gave it a try. Nothing. I tried to tear it. I’ve opened jars that big strong men can’t budge so anything is possible. Still nothing. Think . . . think . . .

I looked up to see the couple that had been in line behind me walking through the parking lot. Their car was parked right next to us. As I got out of the truck, I hoped they remembered seeing me in the store. I walked over to them as they loaded their purchases into the trunk and said, “Excuse me.” I looked at the man and asked, “I hate to bother you but do you have a pocket knife?”

“Sure,” he answered. The lady also responded, “I’ve got mine, too.” As I handed the hermetically sealed kitchen shears to him, he smiled and said, “Every good hillbilly carries a pocket knife.”

I thanked him as he handed the open package back to me. I took out the scissors, climbed onto the side of the truck, and with one snip, the gasket was off. I put the gasket and scissors in the milk crate inside the cab. As we got back out on the highway, I realized I wasn’t too eager to find a rain cloud now that only half the windshield was sealed. We went to another state park and then drove around a while before I decided it was time to head home.

At 6:28 PM, we topped the mountain about 60 miles from the house and saw a rain cloud. We went through a few sprinkles but no heavy rain. The next time I’m at Wal*Mart, I’m going to buy a pocket knife and put it in my purse. This hillbilly will never again be without a pocket knife.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lessons I Learned as a Child

Never hide from your dad and not answer when he hollers for you.

Honey bees leave their stingers in you. Wasps don't.

Kool-Aid and sugar tastes good without mixing with water.

A doll's hair won't grow back.

Don't stick your finger in a locking mechanism to see how it works.

Rabbit tobacco is better left for the rabbits.

If you tie the end of a string to a June bug's leg and hold onto the other end, it will fly in circles.

Don't sit in the back seat next to your cousin that gets car sick.

If your hands are really cold, don't try to warm them with hot water.

Your mother really can wipe that smile off your face.