Grumpy and stiff, we forced our legs up the painted porch steps into another universe. Grandma wrapped us in her strange, little arms and scent of lavender while we'd shout a shy greeting at our deaf 90-year-old Great Grandmother as she placidly sat in her rocker, hands folded in the crisp apron covering a homemade dress. Aunt Nancy, the family breadwinner, arrived when school let out, and when it was time for bed she eagerly gathered us into a circle, transfixing us with tales of One Eye, Two Eyes, Three Eyes.
The fact that there were no men in this house troubled urchins from the suburbs less than the fact that there was no TV. Playing outdoors wasn't exactly our first choice, but it did offer an escape from these odd Appalachian women. We spent hours avoiding the troll under the creek bridge and wandering through the tobacco barn. Or we'd stomp through the woods after my father, tasting the bark he carved from Beech trees for us to chew like gum.
It was only at the dinner table that our discomfort dissolved. During summer visits we gorged on fried chicken and okra with fresh tomatoes and buttermilk biscuits. At Thanksgiving the okra and fresh tomatoes were replaced with steaming dishes of vegetables that had been put up from the garden. They were served with glasses of thick milk, Parker rolls slathered with butter and salty ham.
When we eventually scrambled back into the Ghost to retrace our steps, Aunt Nancy filled the car with her goods -- glass jars of canned green beans, plastic gallon jars of apple slices sweet from drying in the hot southern air and Mason jars overflowing with honey and slabs of honeycomb.
Even at my raw age I instinctively knew I was experiencing a delicious, if dying, art. There was nothing fancy about the food from this house, but it was full of soul. Each dish was filled with the effort it took to get it to the table -- the unmistakable flavors of a woman's work.
CONTACT LORA ARDUSER: larduser(at)citybeat.com