Happy November to everyone! Thank God Its Monday and, as such, #HappyMonday, as well. I personally look forward to all Mondays because they’re my 52 Chances a year, in which I get to share Memories of My Mom with you!
I love November! Among other things, it celebrates National Life Writing Month and National Family Stories Month! Every family is chuck-full of stories and folklore. In hindsight, I wish I could go back in time and record all the old, family stories I used to hear from my grandparents and their siblings whenever we gathered together for family reunions and various holidays.
I’m grateful to know some of my family’s folklore from the stories about which Mom wrote in her many self-published books and newsletters. I found more stories in the scrapbooks and shoe boxes of old letters and cards that Mom and Dad (and their moms) had saved from our relatives, over the decades.
Stories of how and what everyone was doing. Back then, they’d write to each other at least a couple times a year with the latest happenings in their families. Some relatives lived in Michigan, some were in Ohio, some were in California – but they all kept in touch with each other.
That was a few generations ago. These days we have social media platforms, like Facebook, with which to keep in touch, across the miles in almost “real time”. Mom used to share highlights of our family’s happenings in all of her publishings. She thought it was a natural thing to do, sharing her family’s news with her readers, because they were her family, too.
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 25)
LIVING AT HOME
(A story by Gloria Pitzer, based on family folklore.)
CROOKED PATH WAS a mid-western, sage brush hamlet, settled shortly before the Civil War by pioneers in covered wagons. Grandma was born there a few years after the war – the oldest daughter of her father’s second marriage.
Fortunately, for Grandma, her father dabbled in a little of this, a little of that; owning the saloon in town, a boarding house, and the town’s mercantile [store]. Her diary tells how she learned to cook at the boarding house, where she met Grandpa, who was renting a room there.
He married her in the parlor – much against her parents’ better judgement. On her 16th birthday and 17th birthday, they were blessed with the births their first two of eleven children – six boys and five girls. We were never quite certain what work Grandpa was in, but it took them from the plains of Nebraska to Ohio, to West Virginia and, eventually, to Michigan, with abbreviated residencies in Pennsylvania and Indiana.
From her ‘Recipe Journal’ notes, it seemed clear that Grandma’s ‘Backdoor Bakery’ supported the family’s income rather substantially for many years. Grandpa was probably a professional handyman from what we’ve been able to piece together from Grandma’s ‘Recipe Journal’. She made meticulous notes on recipes, to the effect: ‘This is the pie I baked from the California lemons that Gus Maxwell gave Pa for fixing his plow.’
[Another entry said:] ‘The hens Pa got in payment for the book cases he made for Judge Burns made a fine stew, good soup, and six loaves of chicken sausage.’ [And another said:] ‘The sack of brown sugar Yostman gave Pa for mortaring up his stove pipes made a good caramel pie – sent to ailing Bessie Forbes, down the road.’
From studying the quill-pen entries, I gather that work was the most essential part of life 80 years ago. By contrast, today’s workmanship is inferior to anything produced by the craftsman of yesterday. I wonder why people, today, are so unhappy with their own work – as if the tedium of labor is not really the problem.
Isn’t it typical that those who hold work to be without value are, themselves, empty? To imply, today, that work is without meaning is actually to also imply that life is without meaning – which most of our social influences do rather thoroughly.
Grandma’s cookery appears to let nothing go to waste. The broth from Judge Burns’ hens also made the gravy for the stew, the meat portion made the sausage and the bones from the carcass were ground fine and buried in the vegetable plot in the back of the firewood shed.
Apparently, Grandma and Grandpa were considered among the prosperous of their community because they were productive, although, never wealthy. At least, we do know that they were indeed happy. But the definition of ‘happiness’ in Grandma’s own handwriting was: ‘Happiness sometimes comes from ignorance – from not knowing how much better our life might be.’
One of the aunts confided that Grandma placed great importance upon the strength of her family and the respect they gave their father because her own life, with her parents, was less than memorable. Her life centered around her family – the heart of which seemed to be the kitchen. Their nourishment, however, was not [solely] food but [also] love that came from ‘actions’ rather than lip service!
Today, families tend to keep in touch and up to date with each other electronically – mostly on social media platforms. I’ve known families who’ve created their own private websites with pictures and posts from the family members of special events happening in each other’s lives.
There are also websites like FamilySearch.org, GenealogyExplained.com, Ancestry.com, and USA.gov/genealogy; which help you find relatives and create family trees, too. Some are free and some cost money. One of these days, I’d love to try to find all of Mom’s family tree.
Dad’s parents were from neighboring counties in West Virginia. Both of their families kept long records of their ancestors, going back a couple hundred years, at least. I’ve previously printed a series of Mom’s family stories, which she shared in several of her books and newsletters – mostly about my dad’s mom’s family (the Knotts), their farm and Dad’s grandma’s “Backdoor Bakery”.
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 3)
THE BACKDOOR BAKERY
(The family saga, as written by Gloria Pitzer, based on ‘kin-folk-lore’.)
GRANDMA NEVER INTENDED to bake for profit. She did it because Grandpa couldn’t keep a job. He was a talented man – restless and easily bored with the same job for very long.
When the oldest daughter, Vivian, went to work in the city at the hospital, she always had something good for lunch that Grandma had baked; and, after a number of the doctors and nurses in the employees’ lunchroom had sampled the baked goods, Vivian was taking home requests to bake special orders for a fair price.
Word spread very soon about Grandma’s baking talents. If somebody wanted a wedding cake or special coffee cakes for holidays or other celebrations, Grandma took the order and filled it promptly. They finally had to turn the back ‘washroom’, next to the kitchen, into a storage and working area to accommodate another stove and more counters and cupboards.
If someone came to the house, usually up the walk to the [front] porch and rang the pull-cord attached to the clapper on the milk-wagon bell, somebody would answer the door and direct the prospective ‘customer’ down the walk, around the flower beds, and along the gravel driveway to ‘the backdoor’.
Of course, at the back of the house, there were two doors. One went to the cellar and the other into the new kitchen room. So Grandpa hammered up a sign in the appropriate place reading: ‘This is the backdoor.’ – with an arrow pointing to it.
Soon afterward, Knowles (or Butch, as we called him – one of the older boys) added a hand-carved sign that said: ‘Bakery’. From then on, it was always called ‘The Backdoor Bakery’. And when they moved into a building in the business district of town, years later, Grandma picked one with a nice back entrance to a little traveled side-street so that the sign would be easily transferred to it.
Writing was always in Mom’s blood. She wrote and self-published a lot of “our family’s story”, in 1989, in her book, My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop. The book was basically about how she was led by a special calling to start her Secret RecipesTM legacy. Plus, being that it was a “family enterprise” (like Dad’s grandma’s “Backdoor Bakery”), it was a big part of our family’s story.
Do you know your family’s story? Every family has a story to tell – in fact, many stories. They can be pieced together from old pictures, cards, and letters or by tracing your ancestors’ roots through various online sources. It’s the perfect time to research and write about your family’s story, as it’s… National Life Writing Month and National Family Stories Month!
In honor of November, being National Pepper Month, here’s Mom’s secret recipe for Stuffed Green Peppers; as seen in her self-published cookbook, Eating Out At Home (National Home News, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1978, p. 22) – aka: “Book 3”.
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
November observes, among other things… National Banana Pudding Lovers Month, National Historic Bridge Awareness Month, National Diabetes Month, National Fun with Fondue Month, National Gratitude Month, National Inspirational Role Models Month, National Native American Heritage Month, National Novel Writing Month, National Peanut Butter Lovers Month, National Pomegranate Month, National Raisin Bread Month, National Roasting Month, National Spinach and Squash Month, National Sweet Potato Awareness Month (also in February), and National Vegan Month!
Today is also… National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day!
Saturday, November 12th is… National French Dip Day, National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day, and National Chicken Soup for the Soul Day!
…45 down and 7 to go!