Fleur de Lis

Fleur de Lis

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Food. Such a simple word, but the memories it can hold. Today's memory: Family Reunions.

As always, food is on my mind.  When is it not?  But this time, I've been thinking of all the ways food is an integral part of my life and how it has been so since childhood.

The dictionary defines the word "food" as follows:
  • any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.;
  • more or less solid nourishment, as distinguished from liquids;
  • a particular kind of solid nourishment;
  • whatever supplies nourishment to organisms, i.e., plant food;
  • anything served for consumption or use
But it's so much more isn't it? 

Food is a way to show hospitality, love, and compassion.

The maternal side of my family held their Family Reunion on the first Sunday in August each year. We would travel about 2 hours to near the Tennessee line to my Great Aunt Edith (my Grandfather Otis' sister) and Uncle Delmar's home. They had a large pine thicket (and if you don't know what that is, please Google!) that had been cleared of underbrush.  It was so shady that you almost didn't notice the August heat.  There were rows upon rows of sawhorses topped with sheets of plywood and covered with tablecloths.

Topping those mismatched tablecloths (because every female member brought her own favorite), was every kind of Southern vegetable imaginable. Green beans cooked with ham hocks, field peas cooked with bacon, fried corn, butter beans, fried okra, creamed potatoes, stewed tomatoes, platters of sliced, vine ripened tomatoes, fried squash, cucumbers in vinegar, potato salad and plates piled high with thick sliced onions.  There was definitely macaroni and cheese and deviled eggs.  And yes, we considered those a vegetable.  I still do!

Then there were all the meats!  Platters and platters of crunchy, golden fried chicken, breaded pork chops, ketchup glazed meat loaves, baked country ham with pineapple slices and brown sugar glaze, and tender roast beef with brown gravy.  Inevitably, a few ladies would bring buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken as their contribution.  On the trip home, I remember conversations between my parents and those "someone's" having a Bless Her Heart added to the discussion of KFC buckets.

There were dozens of #10 wash tubs filled with ice.  Once again, if you don't know what a #10 wash tub is, please Google.  Gallons and gallons of sweet tea (back then, NO ONE even KNEW anyone who drank unsweetened tea), lemonade and soft drinks of all kinds were packed into the ice to cool. There may have been some of the men who slipped off to enjoy some adult refreshments, but I have no memory of that whatsoever.  No alcohol would have been consumed in front of the women and children!

By noon, everyone would have arrived after traveling from several states. After admiring each others' children, kissing and holding new babies and meeting the various new spouses that had been added since the last August reunion, my Uncle Delmar would bless the food and everyone would begin to form lines at the tables. This was before children were the center of the universe.  We always let our grandparents, aunts/uncles and parents get in line first.  We didn't think anything about that. It's just the way it was.

After we had eaten all we could hold and, among protests that we couldn't eat ANOTHER bite, everyone would head to the dessert tables. Here is where the ladies had their "opportunity to shine." Caramel cakes, yellow cakes piled high with chocolate icing, peach cobblers, butter cakes, pound cakes, every type of cream pie imaginable, jello molds (that somehow didn't melt in the August heat or not that I can remember anyway), and hand cranked ice cream.  I remember taking turns with my many cousins to turn the crank to help freeze some of the most delicious ice cream I've ever tasted.

After eating ourselves into a stupor, the younger ones would rest for a little while on quilts our mamas had brought for us and spread out under the trees.  Then the afternoon was ours to run and play and explore in the neighboring woods.  I can never recall any of my cousins experiencing broken bones, bee stings, snake bites or anything worse than an occasional scraped knee.

Late afternoon, the ladies would begin gathering any of their food that was left to get ready to return home. Then there was a huge rush to make sure you took home some of Aunt So and So's cake and was there any of Cousin Mary's chicken left?  "There's just a little bit left of this....take this home!"

And no, we never came down with any horrible stomach bug from food left out in the heat all day. Maybe we were just tougher then?

As dusk fell, everyone would start to load up the cars and gather their families for the trip home. Almost all of those family members are passed now.  I can still remember the safety I felt in my Great Uncle Vernon's rock hard arms when he hugged me and tossed me up in the air.  I never doubted he would catch me! Great Aunt Nannie Lee was stern and I was always a little wary of her.  Great Aunt Margaret always wore bright red lipstick that I thought was SO glamorous.  There were too many second and third cousins to count and many names I have forgotten.  That's sad.  I miss them all and am thankful that they are part of my family tree.

I still smile the first Sunday in August and take a few minutes to remember how innocent and special those family reunions were to me.

I'll be sharing more memories in the days ahead.  I hope you'll continue reading my mental wanderings and enjoy the journey with me.

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