Monthly Archives: July 2014

Mamma’s Fried Okra

Mamma always had a crowd to feed. By the time the oldest ones of we ten flew the coop, they started returning home with friends and then with spouses and then with children. There were always so many of us that we left nothing in the pot at the end of a meal. Or, in the case of okra, no nibbles in the bowl.

Picking, or cutting, okra was a very itchy job. We were given gloves to wear and long sleeves. But I never could bear to wear gloves and I hung the extra shirt on a sourwood limb as soon as I was out of sight of the house. Grasping the okra pods, conscious to leave the tiny tender ones until the next day, we’d snip them right at the stalk. Morning glories glistening with morning dew brightened the scene, trying to overtake Mamma’s neat garden. There were cucumbers to pick, too, a favorite of mine since, to me, picking cucumbers was like looking for Easter eggs. And there was crook-neck squash hiding like sleeping babies under big umbrella leaves. There were onions, too, and, even, in a special corner of the garden, a small patch of rhubarb. But, back to the okra, however much we found and packed into our buckets, that’s how much Mamma would cook for supper.

She showed us how to slice the okra the thickness of three nickels, no more, and then she’d dredge the little circles in cornmeal or flour. She’d put a big spoonful of lard in her largest iron pan and set it on the woodburning stove. (Yes, in those days lard was part of our regular fare. Mamma bought it by the bucket, wistfully remembering when her family had hogkillings and made their own lard.) We were not to stir the okra until the bottom pieces would have browned to a crisp. “If you stir it too quickly, you’ll make the whole mess turn mushy,” she warned.

Mamma’s okra always turned out delicious, though sometimes crisper than others according to how much okra she cooked. Smaller batches were always the best. With larger batches she sometimes had to set the pan in the oven and bake the okra for a while. Either way, as I said, not one nibble would be left in the bowl. If one of us started to be greedy and take too much, knowing we might not have a second chance, Mamma would give us a look and we’d dutifully pass the bowl along.

Once, when my sister Jackie’s fiancé was visiting, Dad, who was inordinately proud of Mamma’s cooking, and who was also hoping to make Fred’s visit memorable, urged Fred to have some okra. Fred took a modest helping, though he later confided he detested okra. Wishing to enjoy the rest of his meal in peace, he ate the okra first. Dad noticed his plate. “Eula, the boy really likes your okra, give him some more.” Fred consumed at least three helpings of okra that day, but never wanted any again!

But he was about the only one who didn’t like Mamma’s crisply fried okra.

And today I make it, too. I still use an iron pan, but I use olive oil now. I still slice the okra thinly and dredge it in flour. And I still carefully wait for that bottom layer to crisp before I start lightly stirring. We have a standing tradition that no okra be saved until the next day. My grandson Charles D will grab the bowl if he has half a chance and dump the last circles on his plate! But he has learned to look around the table and politely ask if anyone wants more before he takes it.

When I go to the market to choose okra, I always select tender pods, not great big ones. As I do, I remember Mamma’s morning gloried garden and I can just smell the mixture of dew on disturbed leaves, the greening smell of squash vines, and hear the buzzing of a june bug. I can’t help thinking, too, of my father-in-law, JB, who farmed in south Georgia and peddled his beautiful vegetables in Coolidge and Thomasville. He had quite a clientele of bank clerks, dental hygienists, grocery managers and more. It was always a privilege to receive his generous gifts of vegetables–cantaloupes, squash, all kinds of peas, corn, and his wonderful okra!

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Airplane Chaser

Charles came home from work (journal notes from 1980) talking about an Irish setter who had wandered up to the back door of the animal hospital. “He’s not pretty right now. He’s missed meals for a month or two at least. But if we can’t find his owner, I’d like to bring him home,” he said.

Sam (William, 12, Julie, 11, and I all agreed he looked like a Sam) looked rugged and ragged. He was as thin as a noodle on a diet, his eyes were deepset and sad, his hair looked like a worn out doormat, and he had no spirit. But it wasn’t long before he began to come alive under Charles’ careful treatment. His eyes took on a look of intelligence and inquisitiveness. His feathers on backs of legs and along bottom of stomach fluffed out. And he began chasing bees, wasps, and airplanes, ears flopping, tail wagging.

Sam is the only dog we ever had who chased airplanes. He’d hear the drone of a small plane, his ears would quirk and then, in a flash, he’d take off running, his lanky body a red blur in the wind. He always stopped at the edge of the empty lot next door, looked up in great disappointment and confusion, then sniffed around a clump or two of grass before running back home. He was a chaser of all moving things, flying or on the ground. And he was a good walking companion.

With Sam along, running ahead, dipping back to check on me, loping into the woods and swimming the ponds, a three-mile walk was sheer entertainment. I always said he covered nine miles for my three! Several times he picked up a terrapin that just fit in his mouth and took it the whole three miles, depositing it right where he’d picked it up when we returned. Those turtles had a free tour of the countryside!

One summer when William, Julie and I were all helping with Vacation Bible School at our church we came home at noon to learn from a neighbor that Sam had collapsed in her driveway. Rushing over to take him to the animal hospital, we were all horrified at the way he was shaking and his eyes rolling back in his head. We wrapped him in an old rug and William held onto him while I drove to the clinic. Charles was out on a large animal emergency but Dr. Janet Clark, our new vet at the time, treated Sam tenderly. Turns out, he had a heat stroke. He did recover but he never was able to run again without a hampering little side-swing in his trot. Not that he let it slow him down much!

When Sam was about fifteen years old he developed hip dysplasia and other arthritic problems. Some days he could hardly move. It had been a while since he’d been able to jump up in Charles’ truck. Charles would tenderly give him a boost and take him to the animal hospital for a shot of Rimadyl (sp?) and other comforts. At that time I was volunteering almost every day at our church’s day care. Our children were both grown and away at college (William) and married (Julie). There were signs around the yard that Sam no longer very neatly deposited his poopies under bushes as he always had done before. He laid them wherever he happened to be. He had also acquired a terrible fear of storms and always dragged up on the porch when thunder rolled. His chasing of planes had wound down to only an occasional whimper when a plane roared over.

One day when I wasn’t home, the thunder rolled and sam tried to get in a shed behind our house. He got stuck between two boards, halfway in, and was so weak that he couldn’t respond when we called him. It was hours before we found him. I cuddled him and talked to him. He gave me only the slightest response, like a flick of one ear. Charles ran his hands through his red hair and gently patted his unresponsive back end. “Gotta let him go,” he said quietly.

I went to day care that morning knowing he’d be gone when I got home. It was a rough day. Every time someone asked me if I was all right, I burst into tears! There was a fresh mound of dirt out by the pasture fence when I got home.

And that was our Sam, the Airplane Chaser.

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His Mighty Power

The flag is flying, bunting is bright on our mailbox, a watermelon is cooling in the refrigerator, and we’re full of excitement as we anticipate celebrating the Fourth of July with our family. We may or may not be able to attend a show of fireworks this time. We’re considering Bainbridge or Thomasville as possibilities. But we may just watch the fireworks in Washington on our own television. The thrilling stories of our brave servicemen, wonderful patriotic music, and views of memorials in our nation’s capital will all be great to see and hear. The power in the fireworks will, as always, be astounding– the boom, the sparkle, the flash after flash after flash, and all the colors! I just love it!

Speaking of power…Consider His mighty power! Following is a devotional which is part of the book I’m working on titled “Holy Sandpaper.”

“…for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.” Luke 8:25d

     The disciples had been with Jesus when he cleansed a man of demons (Luke 4:35), healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:39), caused Simon to haul in a huge draught of fish when that day he’d been unable to catch a single one (Luke 5:6), healed a man of palsy and forgave his sins (Luke 5:24-25), healed a man’s withered hand (Luke 6:10), healed the dying servant of a centurion (Luke 7:10), and raised up the dead son of a widow (Luke 7:13-15). But when the disciples witnessed Jesus calming a raging storm at sea, it “blew them away.” “…even the winds and water…obey him.”

     I can hear the breathless reverence in the voices of those weathered fishermen. I don’t know how big that boat was, but I can imagine each one of those rough and tough men feeling they needed to prostrate themselves before the Lord if there were room. They were breathless first with fear of the storm. Then, after seeing the raging storm calm at Jesus’ command, they were breathless with reverential fear of the Lord.

     Highly trained weather forecasters warn us when there’s danger of tornadoes and hurricanes, hail storms, and severe thunderstorms. Warnings save hundreds of lives as citizens hear and heed the warnings. But no one can change the weather, only predict it. And the predictions aren’t always accurate because wind currents can suddenly change direction, strength, and speed. Rise and fall of temperatures also affect an oncoming storm.

     I’ve experienced close up and “personal” a tornado that hit my home in north Georgia when I was a child and a hurricane that hit my south Georgia home when I was a worried mother. In neither case was anyone hurt. But the display of power was incredibly awesome. When the tornado hit the sound was deafening and only afterwards (about three whole minutes) did we realize that huge pine trees had fallen all around our house. When the hurricane hit our house in 1984 (?) we were safe, but were without electricity for many hours, had our pasture fence torn up so our mule trotted unbidden all around town scaring folks, and our roof was damaged severely. Others lost houses and barns in that storm.

     It always amazes me to see how a tornado can dip down, take half a house and shred it, yet leave the other half standing with a coconut cake sitting on the kitchen counter, or a piano with a hymnbook open to the musician’s place. What power! What precision!

     We see the power of the Lord displayed in a spectacular lightning storm or in the roaring waters of a flood-swollen river. Charles has been called as a veterinarian to pronounce reason for death of cows, sometimes six or eight, struck by lightning while huddling together under a tree.

     The power you see in a storm may be seen also in changed lives, healed bodies, circumstances miraculously adjusted or overcome. Have you seen His power lately? Look for Him to be at work in you and around you! Watch diligently for the works of the One Whom “even the winds…obey.”  Look for the spectacular fireworks He provides on any given day of the year, not just the Fourth of July. Happy Independence Day!!!!

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