Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sentimental Sunday: Lunch, but maybe it was called "dinner"

I have some very distinct smell memories from my childhood of being at either of my two grandmother's houses at lunch time. If you aren't a regular reader here, and most people aren't, then I need to explain that we're talking about the 1950s in a very small town in the mountains of Western Maryland called Frostburg. A writer friend who lives in Frostburg recently emailed that someone there had the bright idea to attach a new slogan to the town name: Frostburg, like where you are only colder. Or something like that.

And I need to explain that my grandfathers were men who worked physically hard out in that cold when they were young and strong and they came from men and families of men who worked physically hard, so they needed a hearty lunch with big calories. Except they called it dinner.

In those days, and as Mom tells me from the 1920s on, the mid-day meal was a cooked affair in both summer and winter. I can still hear Grandma Kelly say to grandpop, "Lee, are you ready to eat?" By this time in the mid 1950s grandpop was too old and ill to work in the coal mines. The coal mines really took it out of a man and by then he had serious signs of black lung disease and was worn and thin. Grandma did all she could to shovel food into him.

Grandmother Williams cooked a mid-day meal of proportions whenever hungry people were there to eat it. Grandfather Williams was a route salesman who drove a company truck all over the tri-states of West Virginia and Western Maryland and even into Pennsylvania to deliver his wares. He was out in all kinds of weather and was an excellent hunter and fisherman who would often bring home wild game for the family. By the age of 10 I'd eaten and found delicious wild rabbit, squirrel, turkey, deer, and too many fish to count. I could gut and dress a trout with the best of them too. Don't laugh until you've tasted the home-made wonder that is fresh wild rabbit or squirrel! I have eaten at the Four Seasons and I'll take Grandmother's delicately pan fried rabbit any day.

But here's where the smell memories come in. At some point when the decision had been made based on, at least to me, a mysterious set of circumstances, grandmother would grab a cast iron skillet, place it on the stove, scoop up some bacon fat from an old coffee tin and throw into that now hot pan. Shhhh, was the sound as the bacon fat gave off a heavenly aroma. Maybe it was a slice of ham that made the meal or a pork chop, so in it went. Shhhh, as it hit the hot skillet bed. In no time it got perfectly brown so out came the slice of ham or chop and in went potatoes, sliced or cubed as the cook's whim dictated. Then in a little while fresh green beans in summer or home canned green beans in winter. A lid or old plate in service as lid would sit atop the skillet until the flavors blended and food was cooked.

A slice of home baked bread and lots or fresh butter went along with it. None of this "side salad" stuff for these hard working men. If there were green on the table they were just as likely to be wild and wilted with bacon fat and vinegar. And the smell of it all! Oh, the smell.

Well, now all these years later I live in Southern California where side salad is a whole meal. Both grandmothers would not understand tofu or sushi. Or the food truck. I fear that Anthony Bourdain's show on CNN would make them shriek, throw their aprons over their faces and run from the room. Times and locations change tastes. That said, I still have my wonderful smell memories!! There aren't any calories in smell memories, are there?


Grandfather Williams, Cambria "Camey" Williams (1897 - 1960)
Top two as hunter and fisherman, bottom as route salesman.
Grandpop Kelly in the kitchen with Grandma and Aunt Louise.
John Lee Kelly (1892 - 1969)

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