The cozy flannel sheets warm me as I stretch out upon the bed. I cover myself with my Granny’s handmade quilt, and tug until it nestles securely under my chin. Even through my exhaustion, I am content; the past four days have gone just as I’d planned.
The holiday season has come and gone. Our home served as the gathering place for the family. Some came from distant lands, while others live just a stone’s throw away. This celebratory gathering is a time where at any moment you’ll hear squeals of laughter or perhaps see a tear-stained face, as we share stories from our busy lives with one another. It is also a time where we borrow customs and traditions from loved ones that no longer walk among us.
The feeding frenzy that is our family’s tradition is packed into three full meals a day. And, let’s not forget to crowd in the snacks, appetizers, cocktails and desserts. It is a repeat performance of delicious gluttony that we pass from generation to generation.
I snuggle deeper into the warm quilt covers and realize that I’m bone tired. I marvel at how my foremothers had the physical stamina to prepare and serve holiday meals for our family. Even in their advanced years they always insisted on everyone coming to their house for the big celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Each time they would shoo us out of their kitchen when we tried to help in the preparations, or the clean up.
It was their way of showing love.
Even with my physical weakness, I am incredibly honored to carry on a tradition that transcends the ages. Planning, preparing and serving a traditional holiday meal is most certainly an art form; improved upon over time, with patience, perseverance and practice.
In its simplest form it is known as cooking. In its spiritual form, it is love.
Love is conveyed to those for whom we prepare the food. The preparation and serving is our tribute to those who taught us by their example, shared recipes, decorating tips and holiday customs.
It was commonplace for me to help my elders as they toiled in their warm and inviting kitchens. I was taught as a child how to stir the pot and add the seasoning. Rarely did we measure ingredients. Our senses gauged the proper amount by touching, watching and tasting. Throughout the ages their kitchens served as the central heartbeat of the home. All good things emanated from there.
As I slowly relax, I recall the chirping baby chickens in my great-grandmother’s kitchen. She ordered them every year through a mail-order catalogue, and they were delivered by the mailman. Like other women in western Kentucky, she contributed to the family’s income by raising chickens in order to sell eggs. Both country stores and city businesses would take eggs or chickens in exchange for payment for items or services, even newspaper subscriptions.
I’d run to her kitchen every afternoon after school to touch their soft feathery down. Mamma Brewer kept them in a brown cardboard box next to the refrigerator to catch the warm air from underneath.
In time, the chirping baby chicks could create quite a noisy commotion as they grew large enough to be put out in the hen house. Pecking around the yard and squawking at one another; chickens were a staple of the family farm.
As I close my eyes and finally fall asleep, I can still hear the soft cluck, cluck, clucking of those hens. They provide a gentle lullaby, playing softly in my memory.
Mama Brewer’s Hash
• 2 small potatoes, diced
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 3 - 4 slices leftovers of beef, chicken, or pork roast
• 1/4 teaspoon each: garlic powder, salt, pepper, sage, and water
Sauté onions and potatoes in butter coated skillet until all are tender. Add 1 cup crumbled bread (Mama Brewer used her leftover biscuits) and ½ cup water. Simmer until liquid is gone. Serve hot.
Bobbie Bryant lives in Louisville and serves as a Community Development Advisor for the Kentucky League of Cities. She is passionate about western Kentucky and is a freelance writer with four publications: Farming in the Black Patch, A Beautiful Star: the Life of Lois Etoile Brewer, Passions of the Black Patch: Cooking and Quilting in Western Kentucky and Forty Acres and a Red Belly Ford: The Smith Family of Calloway County. For more information about the author, visit http://bobbiesmithbryant.com/