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Saturday, April 10, 2010


Army retirement is a funny thing.  There is the first retirement when the retiree retires and then sticks close to base and does army related work.  The second retirement is the final one.  And so it was with my father.  He retired from the army and we moved back to the United States and settled in Washington DC. After a few years with no nanny, housekeeper, or cook, he retired retired from the Army and moved us home to a small town in western Kentucky to live with his parents, my grandparents.  In 12 long short years, I lived and moved  from Stuttgart, Germany to Washington, DC to Heidelberg, Germany to Vienna, Austria to Asmara, Ethiopia Africa to Washington, DC to small-town, Kentucky. That was my normal.  I thought that's what everyone did. That move was different, though. That move was a shock, a cultural shock. I was treated differently.  I wasn't liked. I didn't fit in.  I didn't belong. Officials almost didn't let me enroll in school because my birth certificate was German.   I was called saurkraut for years, which, at least, was a food term. Thank God army brats were tough and thick-skinned.  We had to be. We were used to rejection and change.  I was normal.  They weren't.  I could deal.

The biggest shock from the move was living on a farm, my grandparents farm. It was edged by Barren River Lake with deep jagged cliffs overlooking the water and had acres of rolling green fields with cattle and horses. The farm had cornfields, tobacco fields, oil wells, and vegetable gardens. There was a chicken coop with chickens, roosters, and brown eggs nestled on straw beds.  Next to the coop was a smoke house with dangling hams hanging from the ceiling smelling like salt and pig. I loved that smell. There were grape vines and apple trees. I would eat the tart green un-ripe fruits until my baby belly ached with misery and delight. Most importantly, for a mischievous and outcast boy, the farm had a pond.  A big brown muddy water pool, filled with catfish and frogs and algae.

It was Eden.

There were things to get used to and new termonology to accept.  All of a sudden, what I had always known of as lunch became dinner and dinner became supper.  It was confusing.  My accustomed breakfast of soft boiled eggs, halved grapefruit, and boxed Sugar Pops cereal  morphed into fried country ham, scrambled eggs, biscuits, and gravy.  Dinner  was always an army of meats, sides, and desserts; smothered  pork chops with onions, fried chicken, baked beans with ground beef topped with sweet bacon candy, green beans, chess pie, transparent pie, and those orange sugar-coated jelly candies.  Supper was usually a warm-up and rehash of leftover dinner. It was crazy to me and I loved every bite.

In the summer, Granny would can things.  Everyone canned things.  That confused me as well.  Everyone was canning, but there were no cans. There were plenty of glass jars.  Why didn't they call it jarring? I never really got over that issue.  I would help shuck corn, snap beans, pluck peas, and squeeze tomatoes.  Those things pleased Granny.  We would be sticky, sweaty, and hot, but we were always happy and laughing, whispering secrets to each other. Country women doing country things, Granny and me.  Legacy.

I was the fetcher in the family.  Come supper time, it was always "Tommy, fetch Granny some green beans and potatoes from the cellar".  Or, "We're having stewed tomatoes.  Tommy, fetch some canned tomatoes from downstairs."

Downstairs.  The cellar.  Me, the fetcher.. I hated that cellar.  It was like those cellars on television in mid-western America where sweet kind families would flee from tornados.  Cold and dark, swathed with cobwebs.  One lone dim light bulb illuminated that cellar. Sinister.  Dusty jars (not cans) of tomatoes, green beans, beets, onions, pickles, and carrots were stacked ladder high.  Fetch.  The potatoes, mid-winter, had arms growing out of them and looked like aliens wishing and wanting  to crawl away.

I did as I was told. I fetched.

Granny was a fairly good cook.  She paired great ingrediants with simple techniques.  Some things were delicious. Some were not.  Her squash was a mystery.  I never knew what it was.  It was always black from too much pepper.  It wasn't very good.  For years, I thought squash was one big pot of all the garden's  vegetables cooked, peppered, and squashed into a pulp with a potato masher. Squished vegetables.  Squash.

After four years on the farm, my father re-married and we moved into a regular house with a yard. Another move. Another mother. Another woman. I thought, here we/I go again. Marge was different.  She was inspiring.  She loved to cook well. She taught me to cook and to care about cooking.  I lapped at her ankles. I adored her. I am me because of her.  Legacy.

The first time Marge made squash for me, I was undone.  I didn't know it was yellow.....or delicious.

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