Blest be the ties that bind: a life writing vacation in the country

We just returned from a weekend visit to our relatives in the Tennessee countryside. While our family visits are always pleasant, they usually aren’t exciting and don’t offer new sights like a real vacation would, and I haven’t had one of those in about five years so I’ve been antsy. This visit, however, I was excited to see our expectant niece about to have her first child and to see all the innovative baby equipment invented since my kids were born. Have you seen these travel cribs-playpens lately?  I think some come with a kitchen sink to wash up after changing diapers. Oh, the other excitement was that 10-lb catfish my nephew caught in the cow pond and gruesomely slaughtered on the back porch. I’d like to forget about that.

I do love visiting my husband’s country relatives. Open spaces, inky nights full of stars, quiet broken by bird calls or the buzz of hummingbirds, so relaxing sitting on the porch when there’s not a monster catfish flopping around on it. Going to a little church of friendly people who hug me even though I can’t remember their names. My in-laws have big vegetable gardens so on our summer visits I help pick beans or okra or whatever is ripe and get to take a bounty of fresh veggies home. Last year I helped prep tomatoes for canning. My girls even enjoy helping pick, and I like that they see how food grows.

My mom-in-law, well known for her fine Southern cooking, fixes mass quantities of food and everyone gathers for dinner.  I am working on a book of recipes she is particularly famous for, mixed in with her life stories. During this visit we had a lot of fun going over the draft version. We talked about life in the old days, which was a lot of work if you were from a farming family. Little kids chopping cotton (hoeing weeds from between cotton rows) was not unusual. I took a lot of “ordinary” photos of food, the house, the old chicken houses, hay rolls, the garden.

* * * * *

Fried Squash Recipe

Peel and slice yellow squash. Add flour and cornmeal in a half-and-half mix. Sprinkle salt and pepper. Add one chopped up onion. Pour into a pan of a quarter-inch of hot grease and fry at medium high heat, flipping the mix often to keep from burning. Squash is done when soft and the mix is browned.

* * * * *

I had been thinking of tackling my father-in-law’s life story next, but thought he would balk and say he just had the usual farm life. I think of him as the quiet type. But, this visit he opened up with a bunch of eye-popping stories of his boyhood all because I asked him a question about his wife’s father. Dad, how in the world could you have plowed a field with a mule when you were only four years old?! Apparently kids were pretty tough then and expected to work like little adults. School shut down during planting and harvesting so the kids could work the fields with their parents. Next time Dad’s brother is in town the same time I am, I’m going to sit those two down and get some more stories!

I’ve got the green beans and corn blanched and frozen, and a big pot of creamed corn cooling. Tomatoes are set on the back porch table. Tomorrow I make zucchini bread and cucumber salad. In my world, there’s not much that’s more soul-satisfying and filling as a visit with my in-laws in the rolling hills of west Tennessee. I might have some country-life stories of my own.



About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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6 Responses to Blest be the ties that bind: a life writing vacation in the country

  1. Linda, did you remind your f-i-l that “a usual farm life” is highly UNusual to his grand and great-grandchildren and others who never lived on a farm? Plowing mules at four? Did he say he did it all alone for more than one row? I don’t question the memory, just the link to the larger picture. That fried squash sounds yummy.

    • I think he saw my saucer eyes and realized his stories were pretty amazing. My mom-in-law was listening when he was telling these stories and she would have got onto him for sure if they weren’t true or only half true. He admitted he was too little to pull the breaking plow loose when it ran into tree stumps on newly cleared land so his dad had to come get it free. But, he could run the plow stock by himself at that age. I had to ask for explanations of types of hand-held plows. Kids worked hard in those days.

  2. Kathy says:

    Sounds like a lovely time! I hope I get the chance to see those “ordinary” photos. Will they be in the cookbook?

  3. Wonderful post Linda. I wish I had more of the recipes of my grandmother and my dad. But they were the type of cooks who didn’t measure anything, so trying to recreate their dishes is quite a challenge! Love the idea of combining the recipes with the stories.

    • Gee, even I don’t cook with measurements. My mom-in-law did have to figure out measurements or guesstimate, but some recipes remain with generalities. Even with measurements, often there’s just a special touch no one else can duplicate! Some recipes I’ll never make, but they are cultural and historic, like boiled custard or country ham.

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