The Dash

Generally, I find one interesting story to share with you that correlates with one or sometimes two or a few people from my tree. That’s what I do, right? I tell the stories of the dead. This adventure will veer from the path of tradition I have created, if only slightly…

Earlier this week, Monday, April 10- to be exact, John Thomas celebrated his 70th birthday. Or he would have, if death had not intervened on April 30, 1993. 

In any event, I would like to tell his story today. I guess therein lies the problem… John isn’t just someone on my tree, who I researched and am now telling you about; He was my dad. 

My dad and I in the early 1980s

So. Instead of trying to pick one story to entertain you as you take a brief break in your day, I am going to tell you about the dash.

Growing up, he was called Johnny. Spend an afternoon with his cousins and you will know that Johnny was a joker, who loved to have fun. 

Some of Johnny’s many cousins…

One memorable story, I am often told is when Johnny would pull all the kids around in a blanket throughout the house. I know this was great fun,because he continued this tradition with his children- even pulling us down the stairs! I remember screaming along with my sister and brother as my dad yanked us through the hallways of our house. It’s great fun and if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend you do it right away!

At some point, this fellow met my mom (a pretty wonderful lady) and they decided to get married- lucky for me and my kids and Johnny became Mr. J. 

Johnny and Valerie circa 1980 something 

Mr. J was a neighborhood favorite. Kids coming to the door to see if Mr. J could come out and play was just as likely to occur as them coming to see if I or my sibblings could come out to play. During the summer months, he could often be seen throwing kids into the backyard pool. 

If you were lucky, you caught him eating watermelon or crabs- because he was always willing to share that deliciousness with you. 

Summer evenings were reserved for trips to Carl’s Ice Cream (you may recall me telling you that this is a mandatory bucket list item) with friends and days were packed car rides to Kings Dominion- whatever it was, it was always fun with Mr. J.

When the rains came and the weather was bad, Mr. J could be found playing an involved and seemingly unending game of Monopoly (probably where my healthy affection for board games stems from) or Tetris on Nintendo (where my sister’s video addiction probably began)

Sundays after church, Johnny would claim the most comfortable spot on Nana’s floor, where he would either be cheering on his beloved Redskins (nothing I could do about that- much as I tried), playing Gin Rummy with Grandaddy and my Uncle Bruce or sleeping- especially if he had just finished eating Nana’s good home cookin’!

As you can see, a lot happened in the dash. More than is written here and that I will ever remember. Which is why I do what I do- to celebrate everything that happened between the numbers on either end of the dash.

As much as I enjoy talking to the dead- I encourage you to spend some time with the living and create some memories that others will enjoy celebrating some day. 

I love it when you click the like button and share, share, share! Don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me what you’re doing with your dash! I can’t wait to hear all about the memories you’re making and the fun you’re having while you’re doing it!

THANKSGIVING DAY…

It has been a very long time since the dead have talked to me… Or maybe it has been a really long time since I have taken the time to listen to them when they start speaking. Either way, a long time it has been. Two days ago, Thanksgiving to be exact, the chatter started up loud and clear.

Oddly enough though, I couldn’t really pay attention to the dead and their stories because the living story begged to be told.

SO. Here it is. The living story that the dead are begging me to tell so I can get back to them and THEIR stories…

I searched all over for a picture of a Thanksgiving food fight that I could insert here in order to convey the level of disaster Thanksgiving was for me, but I couldn’t find one (at least not one that clearly defined who I needed to give credit to and thus, I chose none for fear of being searched out by the copyright police).

To be fair, there was no literal food fight and the ‘fight’ was probably only felt by me, but still…

I guess the best place to start is dinner… I got drafted to the adult table. After living 37 years, I made it. Except, that totally isn’t where I wanted to be. I would have much rather have squeezed into a place at the kiddie table with my sister, kids and nephew, but that just wasn’t in the cards for me this year.

Dinner was completely awkward and uncomfortable- FOR ME. My brain (you’ll remember, I have been recovering from a brain injury) decided to play random tricks of reality on me and I found myself making comments on people that were relevant 15 years ago, as opposed to the 1 year ago my brain told me it  had been. I tried to join the conversations going on around me, but no one was having any of that. My brief forays into the conversations were met with barely concealed eye rolls or one word replies, that left little room for me to continue. I tried to interject accomplishments about my kids and myself- all to no avail.

Dinner sucked and I found myself wishing I had stayed home.

After everyone had finished eating and most everyone had left the table, the conversation somehow turned to the ancestors… I perked up. I was ecstatic. This was a conversation I could participate in. After retrieving ‘the books’, I sat down with my phone in hand ready to take notes and share.

But, as I sat listening to the information being passed on, I began to have questions and things weren’t adding up right… So, in a small lull in the conversation, I asked the only question I would be allowed, “how do you know that these people are in our family?” (Some names had been retrieved from the courthouse that have the same sir name as that side of the family and now they were being presented as our ancestors because of their general proximity to where documented ancestors came from. I had theories on these people being in our family, but no proof or documentation, so I genuinely wanted to know how to document these people.) The answer I got was not satisfying. It was vague. It was, “because I knew people who knew first hand.” (This may have been true for people further down on the list of names, but I was speaking of the first few names on the list- of whom no one would personally know, as they were born or lived in the late 1700s and early 1800s. I tried rephrasing my question and another relative was quick to answer, “I get what you are saying and I get what [person] is saying, too. A lot of our history is going to be word of mouth and not written down.” Hmmm. I don’t believe that. And as I am the one who has spent countless hours in courthouses and cemeteries gathering information, I know that there is always something to document a person’s life, existence and connections- sometimes, those things are just very well hidden.

After that, I was shunned from the conversation and accused of disturbing the order of documents (that I had never seen). Documents were pulled out and shown- but not to me. Alas, no one was interested in the things I had gathered or wanted to share…

And that’s how my Thanksgiving went. It was not the time of my life.I probably won’t go back for any more holidays and that’s okay.

There is good coming from my Thanksgiving disaster and that is the dead people started shouting at me again or I started hearing them again or whatever. Last night and into the wee hours of the morning, I was chasing down cousins long dead and they were showing themselves to me. Those names that were thrown about during the aforementioned Thanksgiving dinner are rattling around in my brain, begging to have their fair share of talk time. I can’t wait to dig in and hear the stories they are obviously begging to tell and who knows? Maybe I will eventually find them sitting on a branch in my tree…

Who’s Cooking In The Kitchen?

How do you feel about cooking and baking? I love it. I love working in the kitchen and producing wonderful treats and goodies to eat. I enjoy the work that goes into providing nourishment for my family. And I especially like the feeling I get when my daughter joins me in the kitchen and works with me.

Tonight, we made a cake. Or rather, I tried to make a cake. My daughter and my Godson made a mess. By the time it was all said and done, the kitchen was a mess and each of us was pretty well covered in icing and flour- because along the way, someone thought it would be a splendid idea to make cookies from scratch in addition to our cake.

This got me thinking about the ancestors… I wondered about Mary. Was she a house girl? Someone’s maid servant, who dressed and cared for the Mrs. of the home or someone’s mammie, whose sole purpose was to feed and care for the children? Might she have been relegated to the kitchens of a large house (here, my imagination begins to run rampant and I am picturing sprawling lawns, with rolling hills and a huge Gone With The Wind type mansion of a home) or was she a field girl, destined to spend her days under the harsh sun, driving rains and icy winters?

If Mary was anything but a cook, how and when did she learn to cook for herself? I know that slaves had their own way of doing things and that food preparation usually was done by one person (generally another slave, whose duties allowed them to return to the slave quarters earlier than the others). I also know and can imagine the work of a slave was hard and laborious, making extra chit chat and fun almost nonexistent. So, who taught Mary how to cook? And what did she cook? Was it trial and error? I remember the first time I ever cooked anything- I was trying to help my mom out and I made spaghetti. I used absolutely NO kind of seasons whatsoever. It was the most bland thing I have ever tasted (yes, even to this day). But my mom ate it. Another time, I tried my hand at bake chicken… the outside looked absolutely delicious, while the inside (the parts near the bone) were red and cold. I think my husband made a McDonald’s run or something to save us from the horrors of that chicken dinner. Is that how it was for Mary and her family? Is it possible that some other slave or free person took her under their wing and teach her?

Growing up, I remember my grandmother dawning an apron and pinning one on me and telling me each step as she prepared whatever dish or meal- even though I was only knee high to a broomstick. Obviously, Mary did not starve as she birthed several children that eventually led to my Nana and clearly, each of those generations starved not, so someone was cooking. I just wish I knew what. Were there special dishes that were passed down that were ‘crowd favorites’ or were these ancestors of mine concerned less about tradition and more about nutrition that they just made do with whatever food sources available?

Ahhhhh the unknowing is killing me! I see some research on popular foods of the early 1800’s in my future. I wonder if once I find these ‘lost’ recipes, if I will be brave enough to try them or if my family will be brave enough to eat them.

Anyway, you all should tell me your favorite family recipes and how they have been passed down through the lines of your generations? When it comes to food, have you started your own food traditions within your own families? I would love to hear about them in the comments! And don’t forget to like and share!