Maw and Pop were my grandparents on my mother’s side. They were both born in the late 1920’s, grew up in the Murphy Creek community about 9 miles east of Louisville in Winston County, graduated from high school at the Bond Schoolhouse, and in 1947, as soon as they were both 18 years old, eloped without telling their families. Before their family finally settled just down the hill from his boyhood home in 1958, Pop’s job as a machinist with the GM&O Railroad took them to New Orleans, LA and Jackson, TN. Then, Pop was hired by a small company in Louisville, Taylor Machine Works, where he would spend the rest of his career. Sadly, in June of 2003 after 55 years of marriage, cancer stole Maw from us.
When I was a kid, there was no doubt in my mind that Maw was the best cook in the world. She didn’t cook fancy food, but nobody anywhere made better butterbeans, cornbread, or lemon meringue pies. Her lemon pies were something special, though. They were hands down my favorite food, and I still haven’t found one that can rival hers. In fact, I loved her lemon pies so much that when I got a black lab puppy in April of 2003, I registered her as Jewel Kathryn’s Lemon Pie. Sadly, Maw passed away a few months after I brought Katie home from the breeder. She fought a brief, horrible battle with pancreatic cancer.
Pop turns 89 today and is probably the most active octogenarian in a 6 state radius. He operates a machine shop, mostly without any assistance, behind his house where he repairs all sorts of agricultural, logging, and heavy equipment for folks all over Winston and several surrounding counties. That’s not to mention the cattle farm that he and my mom’s brother, Darry, operate together. Then, besides his shop and farm, he taught Sunday School and still sings in the choir at Murphy Creek Baptist Church. You can bet that more times than not, if the doors are open, he’s going to be there. He’s the hardest working, most devout man I know, and I deeply respect him.
From the time I was a wee tyke growing up in Louisville, there weren’t many Friday nights I didn’t spend with Maw and Pop. Mama would drop me off at Maw’s office at the forestry department of Georgia Pacific just before 5:00, and I’d play on her typewriter, pecking out some gibberish just to watch the tan, 250lb IBM spin the metallic, symbol covered ball leaving its trail of inked nonsense on the paper. When the clock on the wall hit straight up 5:00, she would turn the typewriter’s power switch off and place the translucent plastic cover over it before we hit the door. Then, we would hop in her white, 4 door Pontiac Bonneville, and she would gouge down on the skinny pedal, pinning me back in the seat as we headed home. Though, if she needed anything to complete her supper menu, we would make a pit stop at the Sunflower to buy a few groceries before continuing on to her house.
We’d usually arrive at her house about the time Pop would get home from work. While I sat at the kitchen table watching Maw start supper, Pop would go into his bathroom and flip on the light switch which would also turn on a clock radio on his bathroom counter that was set on WLSM-FM 107.1, the local country station. (That radio was set to that same station at the same volume from the day it came home from the store until the day it died. It was then replaced with another clock radio destined for the same life plan.) Then, he would wash his hands, take the plastic pocket protector full of pens from the chest pocket of his shirt and place it on the counter along with his gold pocket watch and safety glasses. He would then come back into the kitchen/ den area, sit down in his brown La-Z-Boy recliner to remove the steel toe boots required of everyone in the metal shop at work, and slip on a pair of brown leather slippers.
Maw would often cook me hamburgers for supper on those Friday nights. She would dip out a scoop of Crisco shortening with a long handle serving spoon and sling into a hot skillet where the big dollop of white fat would disappear into a screaming hot puddle. Her hamburgers were cooked in shortening because, in order to keep an eye on her elevated cholesterol levels, she bought lower fat ground chuck instead of regular ground beef. But, she thought the ground chuck just didn’t have enough fat to cook properly. So, she would fry them in low cholesterol vegetable shortening. While the french fries were popping and bubbling away in another pan of molten hot shortening, she would pop a round cake pan filled with hamburger buns into the oven that had been set to its highest temperature setting. Just like she drove, Maw cooked wide open.
After scraping most of the black off the hamburger buns, we’d eat supper while listening to Brian Owens or Dick Rice giving the weather report on one of the two TV channels they could pick up with the antenna perched high above their house on a steel pole. After the 6:00 news and Wheel of Fortune came the highlight of my weekly childhood TV experience.
At 7:00 every Friday night, whether I was at my house or Maw and Pop’s, the TV was tuned to CBS for the Dukes of Hazzard. I would lay on my stomach on the floor in front of the huge console TV as Waylon Jennings serenaded me while I waited to find out what nefarious hijinx Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane had in store for the good ol’ boys never meanin’ no harm that week. Bo and Luke were always on the run, flogging the General Lee like a rented mule.
Then, after the car jumps and arrows flying through the air carrying a dynamite payload ceased, it was time for me to calm down and let Maw and Pop catch up on whatever Sue Ellen was plotting against J.R. at South Fork. Just like I was all about the Duke boys, they were down with Dallas from 8-9 pm. This was the routine we followed every Friday night that I stayed with them: supper, Dukes, Dallas, then bed.
Saturday morning brought bacon, eggs, and toast at the kitchen table before Pop headed out to his shop where he worked on some piece of farm machinery in need of repair or hopped on one of his tractors to do some work around the farm. Most Saturdays my Uncle Darry would be there helping him with whatever project they had going. While they were busy outside, I would usually hang out in the house with Maw. While she cleaned and did the week’s laundry, I’d be watching cartoons on TV and bouncing back and forth between the house and the shop, relaying messages from Maw to Pop and Pop back to Maw. Then, around 10:00, Maw would have a snack, usually a can of Coke and a honey bun or Little Debbie snack cake, waiting for when Pop and Darry took their morning break.
After the men went back to whatever they had been working on, she would start cooking a full lunch that she would have on the table every Saturday at 12:00 sharp without fail. Pop and Darry would come in at 11:55 as if they had an alarm set so they could wash the grease off their hands from the morning’s project and be seated at the table before the cornbread got cold.
The afternoon was when I spent time outside with Pop. I would try to help with whatever project he was working on, but I suspect I was more of a hindrance than anything. When I was big enough, he taught me to drive his faded green 1010 John Deere tractor, and I would help him rake hay or feed the cows from time to time. I loved getting to hop up on it and do something helpful because it made me feel like one of the guys.
I always liked to ride the tractors with him, especially when I was a little tot. When Mammy and Pap (Pop’s parents) were alive, on Saturday afternoons after Pop got done working and had a shower, he would go get the big red Farmall M and take me up the road to see them. I loved the way the engine sounded as I watched the lugs on the big tires going round and round as we went a few hundred yards up the highway before turning into their driveway between two giant oak trees.
Pap would be sitting on the front porch in his rocking chair with his walking stick close at hand just in case he needed to swat the dog away from his feet, and Mammy would be gently pushing her porch swing back and forth with her tip toes at the end of their wrap-around front porch.
After we visited for a few minutes, and I had gone into the kitchen to retrieve a piece of orange slice candy from the glass dish at the end of the counter, Pop and I would load up and head back down the road to get ready for supper.
Mama used to tell me that Pop was responsible for remedying my early issues with infantile incontinence by telling me that we couldn’t go on the tractor unless I went inside and took a leak first. Apparently, that threat did the trick, because I was going for a ride even if I had to buy into that whole toilet thing.
Mom and Dad would show up about the time we headed back down the hill from Mammy and Pap’s house. If Pop had been fishing with his buddy, Ernest, and the weather was good, when we got back he’d pull out his fish cooker and put a black iron dutch oven full of peanut oil on the hissing blue flame in preparation for a fish fry. Pop, Darry, and Daddy would stand around outside dropping bream coated in cornmeal, hushpuppies, and french fries into the rolling oil and talking man stuff. At the same time, Maw, Mama, Darry’s wife, Debra, and my younger cousin, Lindsay, were inside setting the table, getting ice and tea in the glasses, and making the coleslaw.
Once the last french fry was fished out of the hot oil, everybody would converge on the kitchen for Pop’s blessing of the food. Then, after shuffling down the kitchen counter buffet line loading their plates, the guys would take their seats around the dining room table and the ladies would surround the kitchen table. The segregated groups conversed about plans to fix a clogged culvert or the big sale at McRae’s in Columbus as we all enjoyed the bounty of Pop’s most recent fishing trip and the company of family.
The sights, sounds, and smells of those Saturday suppers are still vivid in my mind and something that I miss dearly. The older I get, the more I appreciate those experiences and the harder it is for me to remember the specifics of them. One of the most satisfying things to me about writing this blog is that it forces me to make the effort to try to remember those specifics that I would gloss over otherwise. Also, committing these memories to writing leaves some evidence of my life, of who I am, and the people that directed my path. Maw and Pop are two of those people who are substantially responsible for the good parts of who I am and, beginning with those Friday nights I spent with them as a small child, have provided me with shining examples of lives well lived.
Happy birthday, Pop.