We often hear the adage about Real Men so my comment is about Real Women. 

My dad sired no sons, so he included his daughters in everyday life. One of my first memories when I was around three, was standing in the front seat of his Chevrolet coupe with an arm around his shoulder, saying, “Let’s go get some of those bones with meat on ’em.” We were headed to Fountain Heights and he obliged by ordering us some barbecued ribs.

He often took my sister and me on a stomp through the woods on the pretense of squirrel hunting, but it was mostly an opportunity to get outside and acquaint his girls with nature and an occasional squirrel or rabbit kill. These little varmints he’d skin and par boil to get the wild taste out, then roll their parts in seasoned flour and fry them in the skillet. My sister and I obligingly tasted them, even though it was like gnawing on a rat leg.

But one culinary delight has stayed with me. On occasion he’d peel open a couple of cans of sardines, open a sleeve of saltines, slice an onion, and we’d wash it down with a frosty bottle of coke. Now, one of our sons, my husband and I retreat to the porch with our cans of fish packed in olive oil, crackers, onion, cocktail sauce, and Diet Coke. Those slimy little minnows even remind us of smoked oysters when dredged in cocktail sauce and lunch disappears in minutes, with a quick cleanup of cans and paper plates disposed in a Walmart bag.

So my theory is, if it’s true that Real Men eat quiche, then it should also be said that Real Women eat sardines. 

 

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It would have amused my Mother had she known that a pound puppy had been given her name to honor her memory almost eleven years ago. And she would have been touched to see our raw emotion at Nellie’s recent passing.

As a puppy Nellie was so tiny she easily fit in our daughter-in-law’s purse when she went shopping, surprising folks with an affable tail wag and eyes that pleaded, pet me! Yes, Nellie was needy. She demanded attention as she grew to her full ten pounds; so consistent that she must have thought her full name was Hush Nellie! And sometimes, to our relief she wore a citronella collar that sprayed a whiff, causing her to sneeze when she barked. One day she was on our screened porch and two other family dogs were at the door annoying her with loud barks. She finally had enough and gave a sharp reply, spraying all three. They beat a hasty retreat and she sashayed inside, like, well! I showed those bullies! Thereafter they treated her with respect with a wide berth between them.

And before she acquired her bark collar, she went after two old farm ducks that were in our yard. “Get out of here,” she yipped! They waddled up to her, like, who is this little runt? Jumping behind me on the top step, she barked, “I’ll send my person after you if you don’t leave!” Nellie had  spunk.  And energy. But when we rescued her after she accidentally hopped off our pontoon boat while we were on a family cruise, she slunk to a towel behind our captain like she was embarrassed.

Nellie ruled. Her routine at night was to tell her ‘mama’ when to tuck her in for the night, only to rouse her in early morning to go outside. Skittish about eating from a bowl, she would plop her food onto the floor. She constantly traded scraps of paper, even coins to earn treats. And she was sort of a snob. The only dog she would play with was her friend Aubie. When they both visited us they would leap from their cars, chase across the lawn, streaks and balls of fur, tussling till exhaustion.

Nellie aged early. She developed cataracts, suffered arthritic pain, and even had a knee replacement. Recently, with an affinity for leather, she snitched a wallet to gnaw on. Then, after devouring a belt she was recuperating from surgery. But for some reason she chewed up a rug and became very ill. The vet regrettably said that nothing could save her this time, so while our son cradled her in his arms, she was mercifully put to sleep.

Nellie’s people buried her at their beach property under a shade tree, with a camellia bush as her headstone. I think my Mother would have been touched to know that her namesake was given a loving home  during her brief time with us. And I know that our family will miss that little brown dog. Even as I write this, there are tears.

Yes, the holidays have arrived and it’s time for that favorite fruitcake, which incidentally they had, even during The Depression. Here we go: 15 cups flour…red thingies, green thingies, syrup, glue. Mix ingredients. Bake. Spray with hair spray or lacquer. Haa!

Seriously, if you want the very best recipe for fruitcake, with eight cups of pecans and no citrus rind, buy my book! The title, Birth Cry. It is the personal story of Hannah D. Mitchell, nurse midwife. She shares the story of making fruit cakes to give as gifts during the holidays, and one Christmas the recipe became Miracle Fruitcake! All because of …..well, you’ll just have to read that chapter. And now I make this fruitcake and give to friends…who wait…and even ask for it!

Birth Cry is available on Amazon in paperback or ebook. A nice gift to give, along with that fruitcake to munch on.

Merry Christmas, readers!

On that Tuesday of the big snow, hubby and I settled by the fire watching tv weather reports.  None of us had any notion of what we were in for as snow fell throughout the day.  Well traveled roads became parking lots.  We saw wrecks, cars in a river, and folks abandoning their vehicles.  Cell phones shut down. When we finally heard from our families, safe and warm, they told amusing stories.

We heard incidents of people offering rides or opening their homes for comfort.  Food was shared with strangers.  Folks slept in airports, offices, and lobbies of hotels.  And somehow, those with medical emergencies were rescued.  New friendships were cultivated in hardship.

And while we played endless card games, a friend of mine died.  She had complained of a severe headache, so a concerned daughter braved the storm and made it to her house.  Once inside, she found her Mom, with her opened Bible beside the bed. Then the young woman had no choice but to remain there, isolated and alone, to wait for help.  Her husband, after walking for hours up and down treacherous hills coated in ice and snow, finally arrived to comfort her.

On the following Saturday we buried my friend.  Family and friends, grateful for warm sunshine and just being together, lingered to share memories.

Although we’ve resumed our routines, according to reports, we’re about to experience the same weather pattern again.  But I think we learned something from those few halted days of the big snow. With life at a standstill and no control over schedules, we witnessed countless acts of good will, experienced how precarious travel can become, appreciated anew how precious life is, and how much we truly need one another as human beings.

If we are paralyzed with another big snow, I believe human kindness will again triumph. Because I think the storm that stopped us in our hurried tracks and brought us to our knees, has changed us. I know it changed me.

Yes, the last time they saw Mama she was at the Walmart, stranded on aisle nine on a scooter with a dead battery.  They said they had to go drive car pool and that was six hours ago.  How come she’s there, dead in her tracks with nothing to slake her thirst but prune juice on aisle nine?

Well, she picked a fine time to fracture a bone in her foot.  On Friday after Christmas she stepped on a six inch little plastic stool to tidy up the dishes in her kitchen cabinet, and when she stepped down, her left foot was wedged in the opening.  Now, a small stool pressed against a cabinet will remain sturdy, but if you turn your body, the stool won’t give, but a bone will. Snap, in fact.  After the initial sharp pain, Mama retired to the sofa with her foot wrapped in an ace bandage, and made good use of her pointer finger for family to cater to her.

At their urging, she called the ER.  The attending nurse said, don’t come!  We’re swamped with flu patients, you’d be here for hours.  Just go to your doctor on Monday.  But in a small town, there ARE no doctors during the holidays.  On Monday, a nurse practitioner ordered X-rays, appointment made for Thursday with an orthopedist.  So , many more days ensued of resting on the sofa, ordering folks around.  But the family soon left town, leaving her to the mercy of a bewildered hubby.

The orthopedic experience was a nightmare, with a doctor who evidently would rather saw on bones than interact with patients.  After two improperly placed casts and an attack of claustrophobia, Mama was fitted with a boot and told to continue reclining for a couple of weeks.  By now hubby is asking for prayer requests – for himself.

So, to tone down cabin fever, a couple of her kids took her to the Walmart, and plopped her on a scooter.  Oddly, she didn’t receive any sympathy from folks who yelped and scurried out of her way or climbed shelves in order to save their shins.  And now, she’s twiddling her thumbs on a dead scooter, waiting for that long carpool line to end, for her loved ones to return and take Mama home…Hopefully, they’ll come soon. It’s getting dark, the juice bottle is almost empty, and….well, you know…

When I was a small child there came a big snow in Birmingham with foot long icicles hanging from the eaves of our house. I have a photo of my young parents and me in two feet of snow beside a snowman.  It was Christmas, and our world was blanketed with a serene stillness as I watched my parents toss snowballs and scoop snow into a bowl to make my first snow ice cream.  Afterwards, each year, in childlike wonder I looked for snow at Christmas time.

In winter our small house was heated by a coal stove and when the windows frosted over, my younger sister and i would write our initials on the panes and peer out to watch for snowflakes.  Or lie in the living room floor under our aluminum Christmas tree and watch the revolving light turn its branches red, green and gold.  One year daddy saw a huge roll of wrapping paper fall off a truck.  He retrieved it and for years all our presents were encased in it.

We had a Christmas program at our small church, complete with carols, a tree and Santa doling out gifts.  He would call the children by name and we would each receive a gift that our parents had slipped in, and ours was always a box of chocolate covered cherries. Afterwards when we stepped into the crisp night air we scanned the skies, looking for snow clouds.

With Christmas only a day away, soon our family will gather to open gifts, read the Nativity story, eat tons of food and play games.  The weatherman says it will be clear and cold, with not even a hint of snow.  But hopefully a huge orb of a moon will hang over our slough on the lake, bathing the water and our point with a layer of silver.  Already, with bare trees silhouetted against a dark sky and pine trees standing in black lace, a feeling of enchantment has invaded my world.  For once again, I am amazed at the peace and wonder of Christmas.

Thanksgiving is upon us, Christmas is approaching, and this year I’m ready for both holidays.  Bought a skinny pre-lit Christmas tree that looks like a real fir, trimmed it with memorabilia, and hung a wreath on the door.  With pilgrims and pumpkins on the table, we can all give thanks and hum carols.

We celebrate off holidays here at the lake.  While our parents were alive, we had to balance the one day of meals equally between our Mothers’ cooking.  We dreaded packing four kids and carting them between houses while they whined about why we couldn’t just stay home.  Now our married children casually celebrate the actual day with their other families, then come here the day after and sometimes stay for days.  We love it!  No stress. Just fun.

Each year, around the table after the Thanksgiving meal, we each say what we’re thankful for.  One year we even assigned names, wrote our thanks for the family member on our list, and read it aloud. It not only got teary, but a little wacky.  Our two sons-in-law got creative; one wrote a crazy poem and the other wrote his thanks in code – no one could decipher it.  The family said if we ever have to do that again, we’re going to say what we really think about them.

So we went back to just stating what we’re thankful for.  A particular year after we had made it around the table, we realized we had overlooked our two-year old grandson.  With smiles we turned to him and said sweetly, “And Daniel honey, what are you thankful for?” We expected some toddler gibberish, but the child looked at us, made eye contact and clearly said, “Jesus….Christmas….Family…..Ribbon.” His simple reply has remained in my memory.  For our family, that is also for what we’re most thankful.  Jesus, God’s gift to us all, wrapped in the ribbon of Christmas.

Today I’m cooking favorite dishes, thawing the turkey, baking and listening to Christmas CDs, while I look forward to time with family and friends.  Not only am I thankful for the holidays, but this year….I’m so ready!