Friday, October 30, 2009

The Good Grandma

by Donna Gloff

Along the southeastern edge of the Oil Creek watershed, around Knawls Creek, Orlando’s RFD postal route 2 takes in a small area that is drained by the Little Kanawha. It is in that area that James Edward Sands and Francis Willa Jackson had their farm in the early 1900s. Francis’ family had been pioneer settlers five or ten miles south of what would become Orlando. They came, like most of the area’s settlers, from the Valley of Virginia. Willa was a Riffle on her mother’s side while Jim was a cousin of P. N. "Uncle Zeke" Blake through the Sands family.

Francis and James married in 1906 in her parents’ home. Her name is listed as Nancy on the marriage certificate. She was 17 and James was 33. She called him Poppy. They had five children: Violet, Ada, Juanita, Willa Francis and Edward. Willa and James separated, then divorced. James and their son Edward stayed in Orlando. Father and son moved to Alaska for a time, but returned to the Orlando area.
Francis and their four girls went to Wheeling. In 1928 in Wheeling Francis remarried to a coal miner named Pete Krevich. They were both 39. Over the fireplace, in the living room of their home, hung the cross. On one side was a photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt, on the other side was a photo of John L. Lewis, the coal miner activist.
Left: from the internet, pictures of FDR, a crusifix and John L. Lewis.

Grandsons Remember
Francis’ grandsons remembers their granny with joy. She was a woman who could take care of herself, and took care of others, too. She could fire a young boy’s dreams of adventure, she loved pretty things and she was a great, "down home" cook. What more could a boy look for in a grandma?
A Cherokee Heritage
Her grandchildren learned from their grandmother of a Cherokee heritage. Grandson Doug remembers that every time Granny was disgusted with her taxes she’s threaten to move to the Reservation where she wouldn’t have to pay taxes. Grandson Noel remembers, "My Grandmother was very proud of her Cherokee blood and she was quite a character. Granny used to keep me and my cousins spellbound . . If I listened to Granny long I’d soon picture Cherokee’s dancing around their fire getting ready for the warpath." (Research has turned up no evidence of Native Americans in their lineage, but there are incomplete family lines that could go anywhere.)
Producing and Preserving
Doug Foster also recalls helping his grandmother produce and preserve food. "She’d start with 350 chicks. During the summer she would loose a few, so in the fall she had about 325 chickens to cold pack. She also kept a hog, but she didn’t butcher it, she sold it.

"I remember in the spring we’d plant corn and beans together. She would dig her shovel in to open a hole, and it was my job to drop in one corn and one bean. The beans were ‘Kentucky Wonders.’ The corn stalks would grow and the beans would grow right up to corn stalks. While the corn supported the beans, the beans added to the soil some of the nitrogen the corn needed."

Left: Corn and pole beans growing together
Right: Canned chicken. Doug says his granny left the bones in, these jars seem to hold boned chicken.
"I also remember helping her put up sauerkraut. She’s get sacks of flat dutch cabbages. She would cut them and I would shred them. Then she packed the shredded cabbage into 20 gallon crocks, filled the crocks with brine, and put a loose-fitting dinner plate on top of the filled crocks and weighted the plates with a rock. Later she would cold pack the sauerkraut."

Right: New shreded cabbage in a crock: first step to making kraut.
Left: Elderberries

Doug recalls gathering elderberries, blackberries and black raspberries for his grandmother.
Both men remember cooked field greens. Noel remembers "Granny positively loved going into the woods and hills close to Wheeling (approx. 1 & 1/2 miles) to forage for greens. She always took some of us kids with her. The reason I think was first we had a lot of stuff to carry and bring back and secondly I think Granny wanted to teach her younguns the skill and knowledge of picking greens the right way. When Granny picked greens we usually had a minimum of three big paper shopping bags. One was primarily for Danny's = Dandelions and cress = watercress. One was for various berries (polk. etc) and the third was for many other kinds of 'woods stuff' (sometimes barks, mosses, ferns.)"
Doug remembers that Granny would send him and his sister for dandelions. The Danny heads could not yet be blossomed out (turned yellow or opened up) and the leaves still had to be all 'clean green' with no brown blotches on them and no more than 3 inches long. Any longer and the leaves would be bitter. Doug also remembers watercress and pokeweed. (Pokeweed is poisonous unless it is cooked correctly.) Noel recalls "Sometimes Granny included some of the 'Danny' roots in our bags (to make a medicinal tea and sometimes add to her potions."

Hunting Skills
Noel remembers Granny’s cooked up game with greens. Noel recalls Granny was a remarkable shot. "When she was telling us kids her Indian Stories Granny often bragged about how good a shot she and her kin were. Example: What Granny called: ‘barking squirrels’ by shooting between a branch and a squirrels resting head on the branch and how ‘that squirrel would drop dead to the ground with no wound to the head and just a drop of blood on it’s nose’."

Noel also recalled "One day when Granny was relating another of her many ‘Indian stories’ and what experts shots they all were: - - - - - us kids dared Granny to shoot a 22BB shot (half the size of a 22 short) from inside the kitchen through the slot of a slightly raised window (to lessen the noise) at a pigeon strutting outside in our Wheeling, W.Va. back yard. Granny made us first promise we’d eat the pigeon and not waste ‘it’s life.’

"Then Granny took the 22 - whilst me an my cousins were laughing and poking each other in the ribs at how funny Granny looked holding the 22 between her two outstretched hands - without the stock against her shoulder or body and she just seemed to point the gun for a couple seconds and blammmmmmm the gun went off and that pigeon keeled over stone dead; when we went out and looked she had shot that bird from about 7 yards and the 22BB had passed through one eye and out the other eye on the other side!!!!. Granny fried that Pigeon it with a skillet full of dandelions and bacon bits and ‘greens.’"

Noel once asked Granny if she’d ever heard that ditty ’20 blackbirds in a pie’ and she immediately said ‘Noel if you’ll get me a sack of blackbirds, I’ll bake you a nice pie outta them.’
"I had a .410 shotgun (.22 cal on top combo) and I went out to a place where lotsa blackbirds flew in huge flocks. It didn’t take long for me to bring back to Granny a sack full of them and Granny immediately - in less than 20 minutes!!!! - skinned and gutted the lot (25 to 35) of them. She cut the heads and feet off but told me the heads were also good in a pie. She then stewed all those blackbird carcasses in her biggest black cast iron skillet and when they were ready she dumped the lot into another cast iron skillet with pie dough spread on the bottom and sides. Granny then put another big piece of pie dough top on top and poked holes in the pie dough with a fork. In about 90 mins total time from when I brought the sack to Granny, She and I and some friends were eating that blackbird pie until there wasn’t a scrap left to throw away.

"In Italy many years later I had something similar made with what appeared to be small sparrows (and the heads WERE included in that pie) but it didn’t even come close to being as good as Granny’s blackbirds pie."
Doug and Noel well recall their grandmother vs the sewer rat. A rat got into the house in Wheeling, in the kitchen. Granny shut the doors tight to keep the rat in and got Noel and Doug and his brother Don out into the back yard. Granny went in. There was an awful scuffle. When Granny opened the door, there was the rat with its head cut off. First she had smacked it senseless with one of those small flat shovels she used to shovel ashes out of her pot belly stove. After Granny hit it with the shovel she hacked off the head with her largest butcher knife and carried the gory remains out to the trash can. The rat had not left this life easily. Doug remembers Granny told them the rat had fought back and nearly bitten her neck.

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