Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Dinner

Yesterday might have been Christmas Day, but Christmas is not over yet. Today is our family celebration on my husband's side. Most everyone will be in this year, everyone except my daughter and her husband in snowy Taos, New Mexico, and her cousin and family in Maryland. We will gather to eat, but not all in one room. We've grown that big. The women get the table, the men get the tv trays, key word, tv.

We have our list of food assigned to bring, the usual meats, casseroles, desserts. Two items on the list stood out to me this year, not just because they sound delicious, but because they have a connection to a story I heard while I was interviewing former Pilot Mountain students. It's a Griffith family quirk that I also found alive and well a hundred miles away in this valley.

The first meal I ate at my future husband's house those many years ago was Sunday dinner. That meant roast beef, a southern tradition. It also meant mashed potatoes. Everyone at the table served themselves an ample helping of potatoes and commenced to denting in a little well at the top of the pile, so I did, too. I'm from the north, western Pennsylvania, and when we had mashed potatoes, we also had gravy. So that first Sunday dinner meal, I waited for the gravy to be passed around. No gravy.


Everyone put a generous scoop of green peas in that little well, even dribbled them out like green lava from a crater. Never heard of such a thing as peas on potatoes. Couldn't imagine the taste, either. But there they were, eating peas and potatoes like it was an everyday occurance.

Fast forward a lot of years (and a lot of peas and potatoes) and there I am listening to a man tell how he learned to like peas.  He couldn't stomach the taste of them until his family moved to the South Mountains.

So what happened, I asked.

The first day he ate in the school cafeteria he saw students making dents in their mashed potatoes and spooning their peas into those dents. He was extra hungry that day, he remembers some sixty years later, and wanted to eat everything in sight, even peas. He tried it their way. Liked it. Learned to eat peas with, and then without, mashed potatoes.

So is this a cultural thing? Southern? Mountain? A mommy thing? Or am I just behind the times in culinary delight?

As for me, give me a lonely pile of peas beside, not on, my mashed potatoes.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Project

Yesterday I started a new project, not that I have finished the Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse project or anything, but the timing for this offered a window I couldn't pass up.

My mother's eighty-five year old cousin lives way, way back in the Smoky Mountains (yes, another mountain project) just off interstate 40, not all that far from the Tennessee state line. She has asked me for several years now to write the story of her life as a circuit riding (horseback) preacher for the Salvation Army. As I interviewed her yesterday I couldn't help but connect elements of her story to those I've caught from Pilot Mountain.

One especially stood out...the mountain language. In a previous blog, (click here) I wrote about people who moved into the South Mountains as children and found a culture and its language vastly different from any other.

This cousin is, like my entire family, from the coal mining region of the western Pennsylvania mountains. She left our home village and moved to Pittsburgh in the mid forties, war era. She never felt at home in a big city, always missed her mountains, and eventually moved south when she joined the Salvation Army. She found mountains, and even though these were called the same, Appalachians, these were not the same people. When she first arrived, she could not speak their language, athough they both spoke English. The southern Appalachians, specifically the Smoky Mountains, are very isolating, undeveloped even to this day. The early Scotch/Irish settlers kept to themselves, retaining their customs and their old English accents and vocabulary, wary of strangers with Yankee accents.

Enter this tiny missionary, from the Alleghney Mountains, from the big city, and most important to the locals, from anywhere but Max Patch, North Carolina. They couldn't understand her. She couldn't understand them, not their language, not their customs. She invented her own system of sign language in a necessity-mother-of-invention way. She made comical missteps simply because she didn't understand this mountain life.

Adapting to her new home is only a part of her story. Her faith journey is the rest.

I can't wait to go back and capture more of this exciting story.

Catch of the day,