I’m a child of the 50’s and 60’s. It was for the most part still a time of innocence and good old fashioned values. Growing up on North Third Street in Princeton, West Virginia was an experience that I dearly treasure. There at nearly the top of third street sat our house, with large maple trees out front and apple trees in the back. We were surrounded by neighbors, most with kids the age of us King kids. I remember riding bikes, skating, playing hop scotch and jumping rope in the street, sledding in the winter down the Lockhart’s hill, climbing trees, having sleepovers with friends, and playing kick-the-can until our parents called us in at night. It was a wonderful, carefree childhood.
Certain sounds and smells carry me back to that time. When I smell fresh mowed grass, I think of Saturdays when Dad or John would mow the lawn. Then I can almost smell Mom’s pinto beans, onions, cornbread, and fresh tomatoes out of their garden. That was a summer Saturday routine at our house. So many of the highlights of my youth seem to end up in our kitchen where Mom worked her magic. Our kitchen was the heart of our home. We cooked and ate and talked and laughed and cried in that one room.
Of all the things that my mother did so very well, I think her cooking is the thing that we and others remember the most. Mom was an expert seamstress, a great organizer of our home, a responsible director of the school food service programs in nine WV counties in later years, a college graduate, and she was a beautiful soloist. But oh, her cooking……
I can still see our kitchen table overflowing with her homemade rolls, ready for her to package and put in the freezer. She cooked in bulk and cooked ahead because she was just that organized. Down in our basement, there were two upright freezers full of all sorts of goodies and essentials. Not only did she freeze, and also can, garden vegetables and fruits, she also made endless dozens of cookies and then froze them in empty coffee cans. Who can count the number of trips we kids must have made to those freezers, where we would open the door, crack open the coffee can lid, and snatch a frozen cookie…….and then breathe into it as we held it in our mouth, our breath thawing each bite just enough as we ran back outside to our play.
Inside those freezers were stacks of her homemade pizza crusts, each crust separated by waxed paper from the one underneath. There were little bags of frozen homemade pizza sauce in just the right proportion for each pizza, as well as bags of frozen toppings such as cooked hamburger or sausage, pepperoni, and cheese. Her pizza was the best!
I’ll never forget how she would bake hamburger on large sheet pans and then cut our hamburgers into squares. And because you shouldn’t put a square hamburger on a round bun, she made her own square buns. She even made hot dog buns, and somehow got the recipe for Dairy Queen chili, to boot!
Who of us can forget preparing for Thanksgiving dinner? Mom’s Cranberry Jello Salad was a staple every year. She would let each of us kids take a turn at her food grinder, dividing up the cranberries and the whole orange slices equally between us. We would then turn the handle of the grinder as we listened to the popping of the cranberries and the squishing of the oranges. The experience is just not the same now with the whirring motors of our food processors. But it all comes back to me in a rush every time I taste that salad in my own kitchen.
Sunday dinners were always a large affair, with a roast or maybe some fried chicken, and all the fixings. Often we would have a pastor or a visiting missionary eat with us. Then we would eat in the dining room and use her good china. She even had autumn china that had leaves on it, which I thought was pretty amazing. She taught us the proper way to set a table…….fork on the left, knife on the right with the serrated edge facing the plate, and then the spoon. Drinking glass on the right, above the knife and spoon. We all knew Mom’s strict rules, too. Do NOT take seconds until the guests have had seconds. Do NOT put your elbows on the table. Do NOT interrupt the conversation. And by all means, do NOT look at each other and start laughing during dinner!! That was the hardest one to obey, trust me! Laughter was always just seconds away at our house.
Sometimes when money was low at the end of the month, Mom would make fried mush for us to eat. We just loved it, all buttery and soft. Mom was embarrassed, though, and we never understood why until we were older. And sometimes after church on a Sunday night, we would all sit around the table and drink her wonderful hot chocolate while we ate buttered toast.
We never left for school in the mornings without breakfast. But it wasn’t only breakfast that Mom made sure we had. She would also have us open our Bibles with her, and she would then read the devotional Our Daily Bread with us before we left to hurry off to school. We would follow along with the scripture in our Bibles as she read, and then we would listen to her read the devotion, and we would pray.
I have some of my mother’s recipes. Actually, I have many of her recipes. I spent a year at home between college graduation and marriage, so I took lots of time at home to copy her recipes. Most are in my hand writing.
I especially treasure the ones that are in her handwriting. They are bent and stained and are becoming hard to read as they fade with time, but I would NOT trade them for the best typed recipe in the world. Not at all! For her handwriting makes me feel that I have a part of her with me each time I use that recipe.
Our mother gave each of us, however, the most important recipe there could ever be. She taught us how to live, teaching us about the proper ingredients and the instructions of living life in the right way. It went far beyond how to behave at the dinner table when company was there. It was much more than how to cook a meal, clean off the table, and wash the dishes in the unique way that she followed………and that I bet each of us girls still follow today.
Our mother taught us how vital it was that we ask Christ to be our Lord and our Savior, which we each did at an early age. She made sure that we knew the importance of beginning our day with time in the Bible and in prayer. Dad left for work very early so it was up to Mom to be sure that happened……and she faithfully did just that, even when she had to go to work as well. She taught us to consult the Bible about decisions; to let God have the final say when we wondered what to do about all the issues we faced as we grew up; and to be faithful in attending church, not letting any other activity be more important in our lives.
She taught us girls to be modest, and what to look for in a husband. Her favorite quote, which she shared many times with me, was – “God gives His very best to those who leave the choice with Him.” She taught us to handle life’s good times with thankfulness and the bad times with trust. And she showed us how to handle any situation…….ANY and ALL situations…….with humor.
Her recipes for life are hidden in our hearts, not written on a card and tucked away in a file. Her five children, and hopefully our children, carry those values with us every day. Those instructions are seen in our decisions, our values, our attitudes, our hopes, and most certainly in our laughter.
Our mother doesn’t know us now. She doesn’t remember Dad. She is struggling with some health issues and with Alzheimer’s. But the ingredients with which she raised us are, and always will be, a part of us. Her life is bearing fruit in her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. It’s a sweet savor, more wonderful than the smell of her fresh baked rolls.
“She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of
idleness. Her children rise up, and call her blessed.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. We love you.