Thursday, January 26, 2017


It's hard to believe it’s been two years. Two years since Mom breathed her last breath, just down the road from where she breathed her first breath 87 years before.

Mom as a young woman

Mom and her sisters

Mom and her sisters about 25 years ago

Mom and my brother, Larry

Snow covered her grave on the one year anniversary. I remember how much she hated the snow, hated winter, hated driving on slick roads. Summer suited her well. I remember the summer days she spent reclining on a blanket in the back yard, soaking up the rays. If I close my eyes, I can remember the fragrance of her suntan oil, mixed with the baking grass beneath her blanket. I loved sneaking up on her and spraying her with the water hose she kept handy to mist herself when the sun baked a bit too strongly. We both giggled and I ended up as wet as she.

Mom, reading in bed while doing her beauty treatment
Waiting for a quiet moment to pick up her book

In winter, when the sun barely shone, she huddled into her chair, wrapped in a blanket, in front of the heating stove and read books about castles and romance. Her Gothics, she called them. Years later she moved on to Stephen King and similar authors. She always had a desire to be scared out of her wits--and to share that fear with me. I remember sitting on the sofa late at night watching horror movies with her and then dreading having to go into my dark bedroom alone to find the string to the light bulb that dangled in the center of the room.

Mom and me

Mom and me

A trip to Florida in the 60s to visit Uncle Johnny

A Mystery Trip I took Mom on to the Smokies

So many things I now wish I had said to her. Also, quite a few I wish I hadn’t said.

She wore her opinions on her face like her favorite shade of lipstick. If she liked you, you knew it. If she didn’t, well, you knew that, too.

I didn’t know most of her friends by their names. I knew them by her nicknames for them. It was obvious how she really felt about someone by their nickname; like Blabbermouth or Stinky. When I chastised her for being so judgmental, she informed me she wasn’t judging, she was observing.

Dancing was one of her favorite pastimes. When the music started, she was on the floor dancing. She especially loved dancing with young men with dark hair and “hairy faces.”

A kiss from a visiting singer

We had a few adventures together. Like the trip she made to NYC to visit me. I took her to see "Dracula" on Broadway. She loved it so much that she insisted upon waiting outside the stage door to get Frank Langella’s autograph. When he emerged into the alley, she ran up to him for the autograph and when he leaned down to her five-foot frame to hear her talking in her Kentucky twang, she grabbed him and laid a big kiss on him. A few weeks later, Mom passed out in the streets of Harlan and Dad took her to the hospital. They discovered she had been hemorrhaging and needed a blood transfusion. I laughed and told her, “That’s what you get for kissing a vampire.”

Life is short. Grief is not. I still have days when I wish I could call her one more time. Hug her one more time. Shop until I drop one more time with her. Hear her stories one more time.

I recently spent some time in Florida during the Christmas season. I kept thinking how much Mom would love to be there, basking in the sun. 

I still find myself picking up an item in a store and thinking Mom would love this and then remembering...

I thought it would get easier over time. It doesn't. I still have moments when my heart wrenches inside my chest like a wrung out dishrag and tears come. Thankfully, the space between those moments has grown longer.

I regret I didn't get to say good-bye. I wish I could have sat and held her hand during the process. I long to tell her I love you, Mom.

My joy comes in knowing where she is. I prayed for her salvation since I was twelve years old. I didn’t know until the last few days of her life that she was confident in where she would go when she passed. So, one day, I will see her again.

I miss you Mumsie. Keep dancing.

Dancing at the Christmas party one month before she died

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- OUTHOUSE

Anybody who grew up during my era should know first hand what an OUTHOUSE is. Even if you have never been privy to one yourself, you have probably heard about them.

Photo courtesy of my friend, Corinne Milwee Farley

I remember in technicolor and smellavision (my word) detail having to traipse down a little path to the outhouse when I visited either of my grandmothers in Harlan County. Mammaw lived up on Pine Mountain, near the Pine Mountain Settlement School, in a house so rustic that the front step was a moss-covered rock.

I dreaded having to “go” in the outhouse. For one thing, the path was narrow, with weeds growing so high and close, you had to push through them. The outhouse was always situated as far from the house as you could get it. I think it had something to do with the odor, especially in the summer heat.

Keeping my eyes on my surroundings was important. In the mountains, there are a lot of snakes. They prefer coiling up on pathways. Kind of like dogs and cats who love to steal your chair when you get up for a moment. Garter snakes and black snakes weren’t much of a problem, but rattlesnakes and copperheads could kill.

I always tried to hold my breath when I went inside to do my duty. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hold my breath long enough.

And then, consider the spiders. They seemed to enjoy hanging out in the outhouse. I reckon spiders and bugs don’t have a sense of smell.

I hate spiders, so I kept the photo small

Job completed, I threw open the door and ran back to the house to wash my hands at the pump, just off the front porch.

Granny had an outhouse, too. She lived at Chevrolet Coal Camp. At least the path was shorter and not quite as weedy as on the mountain where Mammaw lived. Chevrolet was a community of camp houses built by the mine for its workers to rent. The houses were small, but they had electricity.

A coal mining camp with outhouses shared by neighbors

The outhouse, unfortunately, had the same horrendous stink and attracted spiders.

Not all outhouses were alike. Some people got fancy and had a double-seater. I didn’t think that was such a great idea, myself. I mean, I wouldn’t want to sit there with somebody else and bare my bottom as we added to the stink. It would be good to have two different sized holes, though. That way, if you were smaller, you could choose the smaller whole and not have to worry about falling through. Oh, can you imagine?

I’m thankful that my granny offered a roll of toilet paper for her outhouse. The Montgomery Ward catalog didn’t have much absorbency. I also proved to be scratchy on tender skin.

Of course, my choice in outhouses would be bug-free, stinky-free, and have provisions like this one.

Did you grow up using the outhouse? I’d love to hear your memories.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- HOECAKES

This week’s word is HOECAKES.

There are several recipes for hoecakes. I’m going to tell you how we made them in my house when I grew up. But first, I’ll tell you a little about the history of HOECAKES.

Every person you ask will probably tell you a different story about how hoecakes came about and what the recipe should be. HOE supposedly is the word for griddle in seventeenth century England where they made flat unleavened bread on a stone or griddle.

Another story comes from the deep south when slaves cooked a cake of meal and water on their hoes in the fields. The recipe for their HOECAKES included meal and water alone. Most experts consider that a rich story, not based on fact. Wish I knew for sure.

It’s also documented that George Washington and his men fed on HOECAKES during the Revolutionary War. Not quite sure who documented it. Believe it if you will. Although it makes sense as something they could easily make and carry with them into battle.

During the Depression Era, a lot of Appalachian recipes had their start. Many recipes varied based on the ingredients they had access to. Most of the time, meal was available when flour was not, so cornbread was born and was made with cornmeal only. As availability increased, the recipes included more palatable ingredients.

The funny thing is that when I was a kid, I thought they were HOPECAKES, not HOECAKES. I know I often hoped my mom would make them instead of a cornpone (we discussed cornpones last week).

The reason I prefer HOECAKES over a cornpone or regular cornbread is that I absolutely could die for the crispy edges of cornbread. When you make HOECAKES, they are thinner and have a crispy edge all the way around. Oh, my, it makes my mouth water to think about them.

My family recipe for HOECAKES is almost exactly like regular cornbread. The one main difference is that the batter needs to be thick enough that the cakes will stay in place while they cook and not spread out in the pan.

Some people make them into pancakes, larger around and flatter, so they can pour butter and pancake syrup over them and eat them with a fork. Others use them to scoop up whatever else is on your plate, like a spoon.

I always loved to nibble around the edges and then put butter on what was left after the awesome crust was eaten.

If you’d like to try some HOECAKES yourself, here’s a recipe.

Stone-ground, cold-milled grain is best for any kind of cornbread. We always used white cornmeal, but yellow will do in a pinch.

1/2 c corn meal
1/2 c flour
1 egg
1 Tbsp melted bacon grease or butter
1/2 c buttermilk, maybe a little more if needed

(Some people use self-rising flour and meal. We didn’t.)

Mix the dry ingredients and add the liquids. Stir with a fork just till it’s mixed.

Heat your skillet (iron skillet is best, but heavy non-stick will do)

Add bacon grease or butter. Put plenty in the pan so the sides of your HOECAKES can get nice and crispy as they cook.

Fry until they are golden brown on both sides (just a few minutes on each side, according to how thick you made yours)

I can smell them cooking right now in my memory.

Add some fried chicken, frog legs, or catfish with soup beans, green onions, and a sliced mator (tomato) and you’ll be in heaven.

Have you cooked or eaten HOECAKES? What’s your family’s recipe?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Appalachian Word of the Week -- CORNPONE

This week's word is sure to make your mouth water. A CORNPONE is how we refer to a pan of cornbread.

Now, in the mountains, we don’t make our cornbread like the Yankees do. They use yellow cornmeal instead of our mill-ground white cornmeal and add sugar to it. It may taste good for dessert, but our cornbread goes with the main meal. Or IS the meal for some of us. Adding sugar to cornbread is like adding sugar to grits. Yuck.

Nothing beats my granny’s cornbread, baked in her iron skillet in her coal-fired cook stove. But, it’s passable to use a modern oven or even cook it on top of the stove. You must, however, use an iron skillet if you want to make it more authentic.

Photo taken at the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, KY

Here’s my granny’s recipe:

Put some bacon grease (or butter, if you don’t keep your bacon grease for cooking) in the bottom of your skillet (black, iron skillet) and put it in the oven (set to 400 if you’re using a modern stove) to heat up while you mix your ingredients.

Put some self-rising flour and a little less meal in a bowl. Add a pinch of salt and an egg. Stir in just enough buttermilk to make a thick batter. Just stir it enough to get the lumps out, don’t over-stir it. (Granny never measured. She used her eye to make sure it looked right.)

Take the heated skillet out of the oven and pour the heated bacon grease (or butter) right into the mixture and mix it in. She also melted a couple of tablespoons of bacon grease or butter and put it right on top after she put the mixture into the skillet. Bake it until it’s golden brown (Start eyeing it after about 25 minutes).

If you need a more detailed recipe, you can try this one:

2 cups of cornmeal
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon of table salt (a pinch)
1 large egg
1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups of buttermilk
2 tablespoons of bacon grease for batter, plus 3 for the skillet

Preheat oven to 400°.
Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of bacon grease to your iron skillet and put in the oven, set to 400.
In a large mixing bowl, add all the dry ingredients. Stir.
Add egg. Then add 1 1/4 cups of buttermilk, but if it seems too dry I add another 1/4 cup. Stir sparingly. Batter should be moist, not runny like pancakes. If it looks too wet add just a little more cornmeal.
When the skillet is good and hot, remove it from oven with a good thick pot holder. Add the melted bacon grease/butter to the batter and stir just enough to mix it in. Add batter to the skillet and stick it in the oven.
Bake until the edges turn golden brown (Check after about 25 minutes. Don’t go past 35 minutes or you might burn the bottom. If you’re not sure if it’s done, stick a toothpick in it like you would a cake.
Make sure you use that potholder when you remove it from the oven. Iron skillets get really hot! And they’re heavy.

If you want to fancy up your CORNPONE, there are a few common ingredients you can add.
CORN – Drain a can of corn (or some of your own canned corn) and add it to the mix. Make sure you don’t get too much juice in it or it will be too runny. If you want to add creamed corn, back off on the buttermilk a bit.

CRACKLINS – You may be wondering what a cracklin is. It’s the fried skin of a pig, after the lard is rendered from it. Adds a tasty excitement to your CORNPONE.

A cornpone with cracklins

 CHITLINS – Chitlins (Chitterlings) come from pigs, too. Before you get too grossed out, remember that sausages are made by squeezing the sausage meat into a pig’s intestine. Didn’t know you’d been eating them for years, did you? But, chitlins are cleaned thoroughly and then cooked. Mighty tasty, if you can stomach it.


My favorite way to eat cornbread as a child was crumbled into a glass of buttermilk. My dad and I loved having it for breakfast or a late-night snack.

Other things that just seem to belong on a plate with a chunk of cornbread are soup beans, tomatoes from the garden, green onions, any kind of soup, and fried chicken.

Of course, no piece of cornbread from your CORNPONE is complete without a slathering of fresh cow’s butter.
I would open it up, piping hot from the oven, and add a bit more butter

Are you hungry yet? Have you ever made a CORNPONE? If not, it’s not too late.