You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it. Robin Williams

Location: Kentucky, United States

Friday, May 02, 2003

Rich Man's food

My Grandfather kept a Jersey cow for the milk. I remember him sitting on a small stool, working the cow’s udder with both hands. Every so often, he would shoot a stream of warm milk into the mouth of one of a gang of cats rubbing at his ankles, purring and groveling for a handout. When the Jersey was producing more than we needed, he would sell the surplus to the Avon processed cheese factory next door.

The milk we used was placed in the refrigerator and after it cooled the cream would be floating at the top, ready to be separated and churned into butter. Mamma had a hand crank butter churn with three paddles on the inside that spun when you turned the handle. She would let me start the process but by the time it began to harden into real work I was done playing with it. You have never had butter until you have tasted it made fresh from whole cream, and fresh whipped cream is a dessert all by itself.

While Papaw milked, I would play in the barn, climbing into the loft, which at the time seemed so far away from the ground. It was my castle or fort, depending on which imaginary enemy attacked that day. I would use tobacco sticks as a combination rifle or spear, and drive the evil horde away.

My Grandparents raised chickens for eggs and meat. I remember my Grandmother stretching the neck of a chicken using two nails driven into a stump. She would raise a sharpened hand ax and with one cut sever the chicken’s head, drop the body, and send us kids running and squealing through the yard as the headless chicken ran aimlessly around spurting blood. It was a lot more fun than it sounds like, really.

My Grandmother had a stove in her basement that was only for canning, and a big canning pressure cooker that scared the living daylights out of me. They told me if I got too close, it would BLOW UP! I believed them. It would hiss and rattle like the first stages of a Saturn 5 rocket straining for the heavens. I knew it was just a matter of time before it launched and I could not understand why they would want something so dangerous in the house. I did ask once why I was the only one who could make it blow up just by being near it, but they gave me one of those Grand-parental answers and I was not smart enough to see through it.

My Grandparents had, I realize now, a huge garden, four acres, and almost all of the vegetables would be canned and stored for the winter. Papaw raised potatoes by the thousands. He would use a flat bladed pitchfork to lever them out of the ground and I would sort through the dirt, find the potatoes and put them in a bushel basket. Then we would move to the next plant and the process would repeat itself. We stored them in a dark cool place in our basements. The potatoes’ eyes would grow long white tendrils, albino-misshapen arms grasping in the darkness for the smallest ray of light. They had to be broken off before you washed and cut them up for supper. The tendrils always gave me the creeps. My brother and I called the place where the potatoes were kept The Dungeon.

My Grandfather raised corn, sweet potatoes, peanuts, sweet and hot peppers, three kinds of beans, rhubarb, apples, cherries, and pears. I remember the pear tree very well. One day I rode my bike as hard as I could down a slope in the backyard trying to see how close I get to the tree without hitting it. I found out.

Sunday after church my Grandmother would pull out all the stops and we would have a feast. Fried chicken, dried beans and corn bread, (southern style of course!) green beans with potatoes, sweet potatoes in a heavy syrup with marshmallows melted on top, corn on the cob and apple pie, made from scratch to finish it off.

One Sunday I was complaining about what we had to eat and my father told me we where eating “rich man’s food.” I wanted to eat at McDonald’s, that was “rich man’s food” in my eyes. Now we eat at McDonald’s at least once a week but I just wish I could have one more of those Sunday Dinner feasts, hand raised and handmade by my Grandparents, who taught me that being “Rich” has nothing to do with money.


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