July 19, 2009

Mama's Mortification

Today is Sunday, and down south, where I'm from, they'll be serving up a lot of chicken and dumplings. But I just can't eat chicken and dumplings without remembering Mama's mortification.

Just before my ninth birthday, Mama got married again, to a widower with six children. Now, Daddy was an uneducated man, as far as any formal training, but he was so much fun, and saw a little humor in just about everything.

In fact, he said concerning his education, or lack thereof, he did finish the first grade, and would have gone on to the second, but couldn't 'cause his daddy was still in there!

Not having been trained for much of anything, other than "hard worker" and because there was no work of any kind available, Daddy became a sharecropper. That isn't an accurate job description, because we didn't get to share in much of anything at all, except the work, and we got to live in a shack, which the owner preferred to call a house.

We worked the crops for the owner. We got some flour and beans, and a few meager commodities, and enough money for shoes when school started in the fall. This, of course, was as long as we were producing, but after the crops were in, and until we could start on the next one, we just got by the best way we could.

Mama canned all of the food that she could, and Daddy hunted, but when in the dead of winter, and the canned stuff ran out, and Daddy couldn't hunt because he had no bullets, things got pretty rough. With nine people to feed, what we had didn't go very far.

This one particular time, we were down to a little flour and lard, left over from a long period of meals, consisting of nothing but gravy and biscuits. So now, here we were with not really enough for one more meal, and it had been a long, long, time since our last one.

I watched Mama and Daddy as they stood in the kitchen, whispering intensely, Daddy, seemingly, trying hard to convince Mama of something, and Mama, obviously distraught, resisting adamantly. Finally, some agreement must have been reached between the two of them, with Daddy the victor, because he went around for the rest of the day, smiling and happy, but Mama looked extremely miserable, and quite a bit nervous.

I remember getting into bed that night-- which in itself, was hard to do, because sleeping with three others, it was quite an accomplishment, just to find a place to get into -- and I was so hungry. I just laid there thinking of food. Wishing I had some. Anything. I even thought of all the stuff I hated, like slimy boiled okra, and wished I had some of that.

I finally drifted off to sleep, with visions of tables and tables, loaded with food, in my head, and a painful, growling, feeling of emptiness in my stomach.

I could hear Daddy's voice, pulling me unwillingly, back to physical awareness. "Great Goodness! What in the world? You young'uns get up, and see what's here! Great day in the mornin', Mama, where you reckon this come from?"

Was I dreaming? Or was that really chicken and dumplings I smelled? No, it was real -- I could smell that wonderful aroma -- and daddy kept saying, "Get up, get up! Get up and eat, unless you want me to eat it all up!"

Oh, how scrumptious did those chicken and dumplings taste! There it was, two or three o'clock in the morning, and there we sat, eating chicken and dumplings, enthusiastically! Everyone except Mama, that is, who looked very pale, and more than a little nervous --which really amused Daddy, because every time he looked at her, he would get so tickled that he would burst out laughing, so loud, and so hard, that he could hardly stop.

I was too hungry, and too busy eating to try to figure it out then, but Mama told me a long time after that what it was all about.

Daddy, she told me, had been worried about us because we hadn't had much to eat for so long, so he had finally figured out a solution to the problem, although temporary. He had decided that since the man we worked for had so much, and wasn't concerned at all about whether we had anything, that it wouldn't really be stealing if he relieved him of a couple of his chickens. Now to do this, he had to enlist Mama's help, which is what all the intense whispering had been about.

He had instructed her, over and over, what to do. They would wait until late into the night, until everyone would be sure to be asleep. Then they would go across the field, up the little hill to the chicken house, and inside, where Daddy would take a hen, hand it to Mama, and then he would take one, They would make a very quiet exit, down the hill, across the field, and back home again.

He had cautioned her, throughout the day, to hold the hen in such a way that it couldn't squawk, and whatever she did, not to make any noise, which would make the whole hen house to start squawking and cackling, which would alert the owner, who, although not very generous with his food, would be very generous with a load of buckshot.

All went well for awhile. Across the field, in the pitch-blackness of night, up the hill, into the chicken house. Daddy handed Mama a hen, whispered to her to hold it so that it didn't squawk, got one for himself, and they were making their very quiet exit, when Mama kicked over a bucket, which created utter chaos!

Mama started running as fast and as hard as she could, while still holding onto the chicken. It was so dark, and she was so scared, that she sort of lost her sense of direction, missing the field, and going through the corn patch, instead. Which further added to her humiliation, because after that, every time Daddy told it, he would tell how Mama had torn up the corn patch.

"It just beat all I ever seen" he'd say. "Mama goin' through that corn patch! I'm tellin' you, she just tore it right up!"

But that wasn't all. When she did get home with the chicken, it was dead. Mama had held on so tightly, that she had strangled it to death. "Oh," she said, "When I got home and saw that poor old dead chicken I was just mortified!"

So now do you see why I can't eat chicken and dumplings without remembering Mama's mortification?

Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy;
To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.
For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name.
Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.

Psalm 33:18-22


Z said...

WHAT A STORY! I love it, 'honey'!

It hurts me to know children go to bed hungry.....but what a guy your Daddy was!
I'm thinking he was absolutely RIGHT in helping himself to some well deserved chickens! And, of course, your family is so honest it hurt him to take anything and, especially, hurt and scared your Mom, but we wouldn't have them any other way, right?
Having read your story about your brother not wanting you to know he was dying in case you thought he wanted money and then reading this, I know you come from the best kind of American stock there is; Dignified, and caring and providing!

I so enjoyed reading these last two posts of yours and I'm quite sure that, while we don't eat much chicken and dumplings in LA, when I hear of it again, I'll think of your Mom's mortification, too!

Thanks! Love, "Vinegar!"xxx (and thanks for commenting on my Sunday Faith post so beautifullY)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jan,
This was a great story!! I truly enjoyed it. I would have done the very same thing had I been your Dad. And I wouldn't have felt a bit bad about it! Sometimes we have to do things we normally wouldn't do, especially in a situation like your were in. I've never gone to bed hungry, well except when I got into trouble and my Mom sent me to bed without supper :) Which happened every now and then :) anyway, I really enjoyed the story.

When I think of chicken and dumplings, or noodles too, I always think of my great aunt Grace, she was a wonderful woman. She had always been very ppor all her life but always had a large flock of chickens. Every Sunday we would all (and there was alot of us) gather at her house for dinner. She would go out back to the hen house, kill two or three chickens and get dinner started. Nothing can compare to those dinners of chicken and homemade dumplings, home canned green beans, mashed potatoes, and usually peach or apple pie, which ever was in season. It was great!! Anyway, your story of chicken and dumplings reminded me of thise days. Thank you!

Jan said...

Thanks, 'Vinegar'..but you're the one who should be called 'Honey,' you know! :)

You're always just so sweet..well, to me, anyway! LOL

You know I always love your Sunday Faith Blog!

Love you, too!

Jan said...

Bill...I'm glad you liked reading my story. It's interesting what you had to say about your Aunt Grace, too.

Come to think of it, I can remember that's how it was so much of the time--company coming, grab a chicken, or two, so there'd be plenty for everyone!

Once, I heard a preacher say that everytime he got invited to someone's house for a meal, it was always chicken! LOL

Thank the good Lord for chickens, huh? :)

Gypsy Butterfly said...

Hello Jan,
What a story! I'm sorry to hear that you and your family went through times of hunger when you were a child.
What a story about the chicken and your mom!
My mom use to slaughter them herself out in our back yard when we were kids, along with the bunnies. I feel this is why I am a vegetarian (smile).
I think your mom and dad did the right thing by doing what they did. You need to do what you have to do to sustain your physical body through hard times.
Thank you for sharing!
Have a wonderful day,
I'm happy I was able to receive your email!

Don Miller said...

Jan, what a touching story. It reminds me so much of my own childhood. I remember times when we didn't even have the gravy.
How much we have to be thankful for today !! DM

LomaAlta said...

Nice story Jan. It is nice to see you grew up a decent person who believs in God.

It made me recall a few of my early days. Many meals were beans and cornbread. Other times I recall macaroni and whatever in a huge bowl and perhaps a piece of bread each.

Never heard of welfare until I got to school, I think it may have been Jr. High. We never had welfare. Charity a few times I recall, but never welfare.

Jan said...

Lydia..I'm glad you liked my story!

We did do without a lot of things, but I know that no matter how hard it is for some, there are always others much worse off.

Having experienced that only makes me appreciate everything that God has blessed me with so much more!

I'm glad the email finally got through..I will answer yours soon!

Jan said...

DM..you're right, we do have so much to be thankful for, don't we?

I'm afraid that sometimes we take too much for granted, because we have so much.

I hope you are well.

Jan said...

LomaAlta..thank you.

You haven't done so badly, yourself! :)

I think it's good to think back, just to see how far God has brought us, sometimes, don't you?

I really appreciate your dropping by and leaving a comment...thanks,again!

Anonymous said...

Jan - This story was sad, touching and lighthearted at the same time. It reminds me of how spoiled we are now - if we don't have steak we feel deprived.

I'll think of your momma and daddy with a smile every time I eat chicken and dumplings!

Thanks for sharing that.