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Posted August 25, 2015
HUSH PUPPY GOOD
All photography by Vicki H. Moss
Even though my Mother went to heaven to be with her Lord, friends, and family almost 15 years ago, it's taken me that long to bring myself to the point where I could go through her belongings, deciding what to keep and what to re-gift one day. For instance, her driver's license and social security card. Who would want those other than people looking to steal an identity? I couldn't toss those. Try as I might, I couldn't. Mother's signature was on them. I coveted her signature. Seeing that signature took me back. Way back.
Then there was the one and only basket she'd made with mistakes in the weaving of the reeds. The basket wasn't a masterpiece, wasn't that attractive, but there were memories within those reeds and weaving that meant more than just a beginner's work of art. A friend had taught Mother and my Dad's army buddy wives to weave baskets the Cherokee-Choctaw way while the men soaked up the sun and enjoyed Tennessee River fishing.
During that event, I was pregnant with my first child. I recalled the laughter that rose to the top of the rafters in Mother's great room. That basket weaving workshop was a mile marker of old friends and new coming together to celebrate their having lived through hard WWII war times and better lives later, while in the present looking forward to my child's future birth. A new daughter of the King was heralded into the world within a few months after our basket weaving party. How could I release Mother's basket to anyone who would not appreciate the joy that went into its making? Every time Mother touched the work of her hands she smiled and laughed. That basket was filled with love.
There was an old hat she'd giggled about. "Vicki, why do you want that hat? It's so outdated. What are you going to do with it?" Giggling along with her and loving my new, old gift, I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with it but I want it because of its feathers. It's unusual. And I know it's ancient and outdated, but it's the coolest hat ever. Vintage. It will not be going to Goodwill or for someone to throw away. It's mine. All mine." I coveted that hat not only for its feathers, but because Mother had worn it during a time when women wore hats and gloves to church. When times had been more genteel and twerking unheard of. She'd also worn the hat when she was young and healthy, in the prime of her life. I coveted the chapeau star because it carried me back to better days and finer times when a man's word meant something and a man's better half--even if her name wasn't Ruby--was considered "…more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her." Those long ago days held sweeter memories. Times when Mother and I both had our youth, and death seemed so far in the distance we could shrug our shoulders at its inevitable dust gathering stormy coming and live life with no fear of fading away in life's rear view mirror.
Not only that, I simply couldn't bear to give her belongings away. She was my Mother. I loved her to the end of her days with every ounce I could muster. To think of her leaving me shook me to the core of my being. After Jesus Christ, she was my main rock and one of the most vivacious and energetic women I'd ever known. She always had my back, no matter what the circumstances. We had a mutual trust. She was fun. She loved Blue Grass music along with Country and Big Band, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, and Elvis. And I felt I had to be a protector of her's and the other elders' stuff. Stuff had a way of appearing in flea markets or at Unclaimed Freight or even over the bluff.
But even though Mother and her treasures were special to me, most people wouldn't want several of the things I treasured. They certainly weren't considered valuables in the eyes of some. Even I couldn't understand why I held onto items that no one would want taking up space. But to some, one woman's trash is another person's treasure. I spent weeks shredding bank statements that had been kept since the beginning of time, other useless documents, and old checks. And with every check that disappeared, I watched Mother's handwriting disappear, one of the last things I had left of her. Her name on paper in cursive writing. Gone the way of last year's Easter egg. Lost. Somehow her name on paper was as precious to me as moonlight in May.
So one day, I began to put together some of Mother's belongings for a photography shoot using my Great Aunt Willie's table that Mother had sheltered and cherished after Aunt Willie left to join Uncle Alec and others in heaven. A table Uncle Alec--a man who was a teamster in the Spanish-American War of 1898--had himself handmade. It was a table that Aunt Willie had served many a preacher Sunday noon dinners on, no matter what his religious affiliation. Aunt Willie never held anybody's beliefs against them, it seemed. She simply wanted to do a kindness, be a blessing, and fill their bellies and while they had their feet beneath her table, talk a spell. And she certainly could do that. She was the type of woman who could organ out a hymn that would make a sinner's eyes rain and talk a water spout into being then tell it to "peace be still" so someone in the congregation could find their way to the Amen bench and Jesus.
Her treasured table later became Mother's coveted treasure--the same table Mother would serve many a biscuit on along with ham, bacon, eggs the way you liked them, and sawmill gravy that sometimes lapped over a cathead biscuit's edge to love up on some homemade strawberry freezer jam lurking next to the cast iron skillet fried potatoes. That table was the focal point before the family room floor-to-ceiling window that looked out over a bluff that had the kind of wind blasts that sucked the mountain stone chimney's smoke to the cove in downdrafts while the boulders and brambles and mountainside vegetation harbored all kinds of wildlife that made stories from days gone by riveting. Stories that included some of the ancient Native Americans who walked and hunted for game over the trails of the foothills of the magnificent Appalachian Mountains.
Aunt Willie's table was the centerpiece for that annual breakfast ritual that became known as the Cousins' Breakfast. For the rest of the year, when an overflow table wasn't needed for holidays, Aunt Willie's table held family photos and other treasures. So with a photography project in mind, when I began the hunt for Mother's things, I also found an old blue three-ring binder. It was there she'd kept recipes from magazines like Southern Living and Southern Country Living--recipes she would one day either cook or experiment with until she had developed a concoction she could live with that was worthy of her culinary standards, cooking time, and Southern taste buds. One of those pages with white hole reinforcements would go on the table.
After placing Mother's handcrafted basket on the table, the basket with several mistakes, along with Mother's absolute best hush puppy recipe find--her puppies floated to the top and weren't the least bit soggy when it came time for the fish to come out of the fryer--one of her many rulers, buttons from her button jar, her cooking measurement chart with its yellowed and cracked Scotch tape that had been twice reapplied, I decided flowers would be the coup de grace. Taking my pruning shears outside, I snipped delicate Vinca blooms to bring in. After taking the buttons out of the jar, I realized the buttons were really old. They had to have been Grandmother's buttons, not Mother's buttons which had always been kept in a different jar.
Then it dawned on me that in front of me were items belonging to three generations. Great Aunt Willie's table, some of Grandmother's buttons, Mother's basket, recipe and ruler, and my flowers and pruning shears. Aunt Willie was in the same generation as Grandmother so she didn't count as an extra generation. The project was gaining momentum that somehow seemed to be reaching Alpine snowball rolling speed when it came to the flooding in of memories.
The search for Mother's hat of feathers commenced. That fine feathered friend must finally dust its feathers and be of service and was a must for this photo shoot since there were red buttons along with white and cream. While searching for the hat, I found a tucked-away note that was typed on an old family typewriter when my family had first moved to my present home. Wrinkled now and yellowing, my six-and-a-half-year-old child (she recorded her age on the note-"age6anahalf") typed, "I am moving to anoo house in my room it is big I must be neter thin a pig…wer gowing to by som horsis. Harayueharayue."
The wrinkled note had to go in--why had I kept that? More to keep up with. Okay, it was more darling than a cutie-patootie. I wish my mother had kept some things I'd written when I was sixanahalf. And there was some empty yellow space on the paper. Never know when I might need the extra white space for scrap paper. Now I was beginning to think like my Mother and Grandmother who hardly ever threw anything away, holding onto any loose string because they'd lived through the Great Depression and never knew when they might need a loose string again. But presently, I realized I had four generations represented on Aunt Willie's table. Could I make it five and keep the context within my initial theme of Mother's things that had now turned into "Generational Things?"
I knew the only item I had that would be appropriate to represent my Grandies that would fit with the theme were photos. Ahhh. There at my desk was a representation of the fifth generation. And she was wearing her sister's hand-me-down dress and a bonnet. Perfect. Through the hand-me-down dress, both Grandies would be represented. I could have made the project go six generations but the only thing I had that belonged to my great-grandmother was a wood stove and alas, it wouldn't fit on the table. Five generations would have to do. Only one thing was lacking.
Flipping through one of my Bibles, I searched for a keepsake from the daughter of my Grandies. There was a paper dove she'd made when a child that represented the Holy Spirit. I gasped when I found this and the realization hit me that finding this dove was no coincidence. My entire project now felt scripted by a higher power. No brainer putting in the dove as the Holy Spirit's representation. The five women and children represented on the table had all been born into Christian families--all believers. Even one of the Grandies who was already praying and singing about Jesus living in her heart. The other beloved one would be singing about Jesus eventually, as soon as she could put her words together. That white dove--on which I'd made notes about my children's little Sunday School songs, "Take your little hand and pat, pat, pat" and "I'm the little Holy Bible"--was a must for the photo. Time was of the essence and I had to hurry and position last minute buttons before the Vinca blooms "went the other way" as Grandmother Mary Kate used to say, looking limp and lifeless. Once I had everything in place, I…click, click… noticed…click, click, click…one last thing when looking through my camera's viewfinder. Whatever else was typed on the dove would have to wait. The Vinca was no longer vivacious. Click, click, click.
When I finished, the blooms were already looking like two-day-old banana pudding slow-sliding down the sides of a bowl for home base. At least I'd gotten my photos. Bending over the table, I picked up the dove. There was a typed Bible verse on its body from Isaiah 40:8. I missed it by reading my words and what I'd penciled onto the dove instead of God's words. "The grass dies and the flowers fall, but the word of our God will live forever."
I couldn't help but laugh! We writers and photographers and all else who are busy with our work sometimes get caught up in the "busyness" of our own words and "our moments" and sometimes get too busy for early morning devotionals with God and His Word. Now, He reminded me that not only had His Spirit lived through at least six generations, and no doubt more of the women and men in my family, he was also reminding me that I needed to catch even more of the small things in the details of the big picture and those details are: no matter what I'm hanging on to, no matter what I can't part with, material things rust, rot, and decay. Memories are sure to fade. I can cherish what few things I have that belong to my ancestors for comforting reminders, however, I can't take anything with me. Those treasures are only for worldly and joyful remembrances at times, and for comfort during stressful times at best.
In closing, I'll leave this one thought with you: There was a man in Dr. Maurice Rawlings'--a Chattanooga, TN oncologist and internist and doctor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower--book and video "Beyond Death's Door" who died in surgery and claimed to go to hell first before being shocked back to life. In the interim, before dying again, he begged Dr. Rawlings for help while yelling, "I'm in hell. Don't let me die again!" Dr. Rawlings, who at the time was an atheist, knew enough to walk the deathly ill man through a sort of sinner's prayer, before the man died again. The last time he died, he claimed to have gone to heaven instead of hell. Dr. Rawlings--at one time Mother's heart doctor--and this man came to mind as I finished up my photography work.
He'd said (and I'm paraphrasing), The first thing I noticed about the people in heaven was their garments. I looked for pockets because I'd always been told you can't take anything with you. No one's garments had pockets in heaven.
With that story told, there are a few treasures I will hold onto for awhile--I'm after all, only human--but I would like to share Mother's Hush Puppy recipe with everyone who reads my blog. And I can hear Mother in heaven laughing now and telling all our kin and friends up there with her--can you believe Vicki's still got that handwritten Hush Puppy recipe--wait 'til she takes a bite out of the Hush Puppies concocted for us in our heavenly mansions!
I can only imagine that whatever is waiting for us in heaven, when it's our time to leave this earth, will be something we never could have imagined; Hush Puppy good but shut-your-mouth-so-much-better.
Mother's Hush Puppies
(she borrowed the recipe from Riverside Restaurant and probably changed it up a tad at times)
1 C Flour S.R. (self-rising)
1 C Corn Meal S.R.
1 t. salt
½ C onion
Enough sweet milk to [become] drop consistency.
Cook in hot fish oil.
Then shut yo' mouth and eat while hot!
Link to "Beyond Death's Door" video "Beyond Death's Door"
If you would like to comment or have questions about this article, email me firstname.lastname@example.org
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