They shared four o’clock seeds and exchanged recipes, recipes that were written on slips of random notebook paper and the backs of old envelopes. ‘They’ were the women born during the Great Depression and lived much of their childhood through WW11. For many of you reading this, these women were your mothers. Sadly, it seems that generation, my mother’s generation, has begun to silently slip away. I can only hope that the lessons we have learned from the lives they lived will find its way into this modern world of virtuality and illusion.
I am prompted to write about this time and these women from long ago for two unintended reasons. First, I was looking for a recipe for chicken salad in an old Betty Crocker Cookbook and second, because one of my mother’s dearest neighbors and friends recently passed, Miss Zella. Both occurrences came together in an unexpected moment and threw me back in time, triggering a stir. It caused me to face the fact that ‘they’ are gone, their way of doing things, their frugality and ingenuity that existed within their homes, their domestic poise, their generation, nearly gone. Much will be lost.
I have heard my mother’s stories, stories of poverty and doing without, stories based in fear and sadness. I know about the Christmas stockings with (only) pieces of fresh fruit for a small girl who wished for a doll. I know about sweet potatoes and milk for supper, and hand me down clothes, but amongst all the stories she told me, beneath each tender thought, somehow, rested a blanket of beauty. Those times were hard, harder than I could ever know, but she was not hard, she came through it with wonderful memories of her family and her life. And as a bonus, she continued to live a life of consciousness, of frugality, resourcefulness, and thankfulness.
These women, our mothers, cloaked us in the fabric of home. They wore feminine dresses with pockets filled with tissues and bobby pins and used Maybelline mascara in small red boxes with tiny black brushes. They polished the living room furniture with Old English and old t-shirt fabric, they painstakingly waxed their floors with Johnson Paste Wax, wrote checks at the grocery store, and, at naptime and nighttime, they read Little Golden Books to us. And they visited, real visits, not quick texts and worldwide FB post. They made friends with their neighbors and had coffee at one another’s houses while we played outside and drank Kool aide. They wanted us to have all that we needed, they wanted to make our childhood wonderful.
I have those fragile and warm memories of my mother and I, thankfully, even have a few tangible things… her 4 o’clocks are still growing in my yard and her handwritten recipes are slipped into cookbooks in my kitchen.
When I pass by the scarlet 4 o’clock in my backyard, and its fragrance scatters in the air, I only think of her. And when I dig around in a recipe box and find my mother’s cursive script on a torn sheet of notebook paper, there she is once again. She is with me for a moment, explaining the recipe, being my mom. In my house, on a kitchen shelf, is a very old recipe ‘book’, something with broken spirals and chocolate smudges, something I have had since early marriage. This little tattered book holds tight many memories from people I once knew…dear dear people. I have Miss Dot’s bread and butter pickles, Miss Zella’s angel biscuits, Miss Helen's pickled okra, Genie’s Mexican cornbread, my grandmother’s Chow chow, my aunt’s La La cake, my mom’s gingersnaps, and Susan's crawfish fettuccini.
This experience, this very personal touch, I fear is soon to be gone, if not already, for we now have Google. Handwritten recipes from people we once knew and ‘pass along’ seeds have somewhat died with our mother’s generation.
I suppose all I am trying to do with this heap of words and disjointed thoughts is to create a bit of a nudge, a nudge to write a few recipes down to give to your children and share a few ‘pass along seeds’ to scatter in their bed of life, for one day, years from now, they will look for a recipe and find you.
September 17, 2023